Almost done ...
Disclaimer, etc. with prologue
The remaining days of their journey passed in a gloomy blur. The path they
had been taking widened and morphed into a smooth dirt road, bordered by
thick walls of trees on either side. They only passed a handful of people,
and nobody seemed to be curious about them at all. The sun stayed hidden
behind gray clouds, which roused themselves from time to time to drizzle
rain on the group.
The closer they got to the valley, the darker the mood of their party seemed
to get. Rogue, in particular, had almost retreated into herself. She didn't
really speak to anyone but Logan and seemed to be specifically avoiding
Jean noticed that Jubilee, typically, was an exception to the general bad
mood of the group. She and Alyn had taken to holding hands as they walked,
and she had turned the tables on him, asking about his world and his life.
He didn't seem to mind much, though he now always positioned himself between
Jubilee and Risa. It was as though he wanted to be able to defend either one
of them if it came to that.
The days ran into one another, but a few days into their trip, they stopped
at an inn and got a decent night's sleep in a real bed. Even better, the
next morning they found that Sidre had purchased horses for them -- or
conjured them out of thin air. It was sometimes hard to tell with her.
The horses allowed them to pick up speed, and the party reached the Pendrell
Valley less than two days later. The road that they'd been following split
into a Y, and Sidre slowed, leading them into the more wooded area to the
"We're surrounded by soldiers," Logan said casually. He didn't sound very
"We are on the edge of the valley," Sidre replied.
A moment later, a group of 20 soldiers wearing dark blue uniforms with no
insignia or markings ringed their party. The leader exchanged a few quiet
words with Sidre, who asked everyone to dismount.
The horses were led away, and Jean linked arms with Scott as they were
escorted off the road and into the woods by a handful of soldiers. A few
minutes later, they came into a clearing. It was only early afternoon, but a
small group of men were gathered around a fire, apparently eating lunch.
Three of them wore the same blue uniforms, and two were in normal clothing.
One uniformed man stood up. He was probably in his sixties, of average
height, with snow white hair and a ruddy face. When he smiled, a moment
later, it lit his entire face. He reached out and took one of Sidre's hands
in both of his. "Sidre. You made it. Maron has increased patrols to the
south; I was worried."
"We are fine," she said calmly, pulling her hand back.
"Did you find her?" he asked.
Without speaking, Sidre motioned to Rogue, who stepped forward silently and
pulled away the hood that she'd worn over her hair.
Sidre had said Rogue looked very much like her mother, and Jean figured that
must be the case, because the white-haired man gasped and dropped to one
knee. The other men, who had remained sitting, exchanged a glance before
following suit. They had no idea what was going on, Jean thought, but they
had enough respect for the older man to follow his lead without question.
"Princess," the man said, bowing his head. "I am General Oliver Symon. I
served your father, and his father before him. Now I offer my service to
Jean watched Rogue closely. Other than a small flinch, she remained
expressionless before sighing quietly. "Please stand, General. Gentlemen. I
gladly accept your offer of service," she said formally. "But please call me
The General stood and exchanged a quick glance with Sidre. "Er, Rogue. Will
you have something to eat?"
Rogue accepted for all of them, and two younger soldiers came into the
clearing with bowls, spoons and cups for them. Moments later, they were all
seated with bowls of stew in their laps.
Symon turned his attention to Logan. "Captain," he said. "I thought you
dead. Or a deserter."
Logan froze, and without even trying Jean could easily feel his anger
"He was taking care of me," Rogue said quickly, slipping one hand into
Logan's. Her look dared the General to say any more.
The older man glanced at the couple, then at their linked hands, and
laughed. "You did not let me finish. I thought he was dead until this one
--" he nodded at Sidre -- "showed up at my cabin in the middle of the night
with a story about saving the princess. I was in the castle that night. I
know what that bastard Deven did. Er. Pardon the language, Princess."
"You're right," Rogue said evenly. "'Bastard' doesn't quite seem bad enough
for that son of a bitch. And it's *Rogue.*"
The General chuckled but wisely let the subject drop as they finished their
meal. Instead, he introduced the men with him. The two men in civilian
clothing turned out to be leaders of the Barenians, those born without
Gifts. Though many of the younger Barenian men and women had joined with
Deven because of his promises, an even greater number were willing to join
with the Gifted to fight against him. It seemed there was something the
Barenians wanted even more than Gifts.
In exchange for siding with Rogue in the battle, they were asking for
Barenia to become a country of its own when Rogue was named queen. Rogue,
after a glance at Logan, quickly agreed to their request. As soldiers raced
around to gather documents for them to sign, Jean wondered at deciding
something so significant in an instant, though she sensed from Sidre and the
General that the young woman had made the right choice.
*And in half a second a 21-year-old reshapes a country.*
Jean jumped slightly, then met Scott's amused look.
*Could be worse,* she responded with a grin. *Jubilee could've been the
His horrified look was response enough.
She had been meeting people all day.
The valley was full of thousands of people camped in fairly tidy rows of
tents, most of which flew colorful banners out front with different designs
and family names stitched on them. Hundreds of fires burned; the smells of
countless meals being cooked blended together and left a smoky haze over the
entire camp. It seemed impossible that the enemy wouldn't know exactly where
they were and what they were doing.
But Rogue's job, at the moment, was to encourage people. By her royal
presence -- or some garbage like that -- she was giving the people strength.
She wandered the camp all day long, enduring the experience of having people
bow to her; the whole thing was surreal, as far as she was concerned. But
she continued her meeting and greeting.
Military leaders, soldiers, more soldiers, cooks, doctors, stable boys;
regular Barenians who were bakers and lawyers and blacksmiths; wives and
daughters who were joining the fight or setting up a makeshift hospital that
Rogue avoided like the plague.
She told a hundred people to please call her Rogue before giving up and
grudgingly accepting "your highness" and "princess" and "my lady," of all
things. She shook so many hands that she had to put on her gloves for fear
that exhaustion would rob her of her control and she'd hurt someone. She
politely and vaguely answered questions put to her, swiftly turning
conversation after conversation back on the person to whom she was speaking.
Above all, she just wanted to crawl into a bed -- or a sleeping bag on the
ground; she wasn't too picky -- and just let all of this pass her by. No
thinking about what she had to do, no thinking that people she met today
were liable to be dead in a couple days' time.
Logan and Scott had been away most of the day, working out battle plans with
the General. Jean was helping with the hospital preparations. Risa, Alyn and
Jubilee were practicing archery somewhere with some of the soldiers, most of
whom were half in love with Risa already. Probably Jubilee, too, but she
only had eyes for Alyn. Sidre had done her usual vanishing act, and Rogue
didn't see Celeste again until late in the day, when her cousin walked up
with a man.
He was in his forties, tall and lean, with blond hair fringed with silver
and ice blue eyes. His tanned face was lined in a way that made Rogue think
that he spent a lot of time smiling, though he was serious at the moment.
Something in his bearing made her think of a cowboy -- a deceptively relaxed
appearance covering up pure steel. Without thinking about it much, she stood
in front of him and stuck her hand out to shake. "You must be Celeste's dad.
Will Danis, I believe?"
He smiled, taking her hand but bowing slightly over it instead of shaking
it. Celeste rolled her eyes. "A pleasure, your highness--" he ended in a
grunt as his daughter elbowed him in the ribs. "Rogue," he finished.
Rogue laughed slightly. "It's OK," she said. "I've been princessed and
your-highnessed to death already today."
"I was anxious to meet you," he said. "I am hoping that you will spend some
time with my family after this is finished. It is your family as well."
Rogue felt suddenly choked up. "I'd ... I'd love that. I'd like to hear
about my parents." She knew she wouldn't be around for it, but it was a nice
"Are you all right?" Celeste grabbed her arm. "You look ill."
"I'm fine," she lied, stepping back. "Just tired is all. I need a little
Celeste and her father exchanged a worried glance but both nodded. She knew
she was being rude and probably worrying them, but she tried to smile before
she stumbled away.
Logan found her half an hour later, propped up against a tree and sobbing.
She let herself be drawn into his arms, soothed by the nonsense words he was
murmuring against her hair, and cried herself to sleep.
She couldn't have been dozing for more than a few minutes, but when she
woke, Logan was leaned against the tree with her between his legs and
cuddled into his chest. Embarrassed, she tried to push away from him, but he
held her close.
"Tell me," he said.
"I'm just tired."
"Bullshit." His voice was hard, and she winced. She didn't want him to be
mad at her. She felt like she was balanced on a high wire, holding stacks of
plates in each hand. Just one more thing would send her falling into space.
She needed him to help hold her up.
"Something's been bothering you, and it's time you told me." When she still
didn't say anything, he continued, his voice strained "Or did you lie when
you said you loved me?"
"I do love you Logan." She sighed and leaned into him.
"Tell me," he repeated.
So she did. Turning slightly, she leaned her forehead into his chest and
looked down, hiding her face from him and muffling her voice as she told him
about Sidre's Dream, about what she had to do. His arms tightened around her
as she spoke, but he didn't interrupt, and when she was done, he was silent
for a few strained minutes.
Then she felt him relax and rub his cheek against her hair.
This time she succeeded in pushing away from him slightly. His face was set
and stubborn, and the look in his eyes dared her to contradict him.
"No?" She laughed despite herself.
"I'm not letting you die. You should know that by now."
"Logan--" she started, exasperated.
"Sidre doesn't know everything," he said. "I'm not letting you die. Do you
"I don't ... she said ..." Rogue didn't know what to think.
"Tell me you believe me," he said, his hands clasping her shoulders almost
painfully. "If you don't believe it, I swear to God I'm hauling your ass
back home. I don't care if everyone in Sandoriel dies."
She gasped. "Logan! You don't mean that!" She saw his slightly sheepish look
and nodded. "What you mean is, you'll dump me back home and come back here
to kill him yourself."
He didn't answer, but she could tell she was right.
"You think the future can be changed?" she asked.
"She Dreamed that Risa died," he said patiently. "So we were prepared. We
changed what happened. Judging by her Dream, Deven's expecting you, but he's
not expecting me."
Rogue thought about that for a moment, then gasped again.
"What?" Logan looked alarmed.
She grinned at him. "I've got an idea. It might not work, but it's worth a
"Absolutely not," Sidre said firmly.
The whole group had gathered in the large tent that had been set up for them
to sleep in. No more cots were available, so the dirt and grass-covered
ground was littered with the sleeping bags and pallets they'd been using on
their journey. Rogue filled them in on Sidre's Dream and the plan she'd come
up with and worked out with Logan.
Sidre quickly objected to the plan.
For once, most everyone seemed to ignore her. Of course, most of them hadn't
gotten past the fact that Rogue thought she was going to die. In fact, most
of them seemed to be a little pissed that they hadn't been told about the
Dream from the beginning.
Particularly Scott. Everyone on the team jokingly called him their "Fearless
Leader," but they all knew he took the responsibility very seriously. He
felt that he couldn't do his job well if people kept things from him. Plus,
in the years that they'd known each other, Scott and Rogue had fallen into
a sibling-like relationship. She could tell he was hurt that she hadn't told
Jean could tell, too, obviously. Rogue watched as she ran a hand down his
arm and grasped his hand. They exchanged a look, and he seemed to rein in
his temper before he spoke.
"You should have told me."
"Us," Jean added.
"Us," Scott nodded. "We're a team, Rogue. We can't help you if you keep us
in the dark."
Rogue's eyes dropped to the ground, and she felt Logan's hand close around
hers, a mirror to the other couple. "I couldn't talk about it. I wasn't
"*This* is why you asked me about my father," Celeste snapped. She'd been
pacing around the tent like a caged animal the entire time Rogue had been
speaking. Despite the cool temperatures, her face was flushed and she was
obviously pretty angry.
"I didn't lie to you," Rogue objected. "Even if I don't ... even if I
survive, I can't stay in Sandoriel. I don't belong here anymore."
"You did not lie, but you kept something from us," Risa said quietly. "You
... all of you saved me. Why would you not trust us to save you?"
"I wasn't sure it was possible," Rogue said. "Sidre ..."
"The Dreams are true," Sidre said firmly. She stood near the center of the
tent, hands on hips. "We cannot change what is meant."
"Bullshit," Logan said.
"I second that," Scott added.
"This is a waste of time," Jubilee said. She had been uncharacteristically
silent the whole time, and Rogue had nearly forgotten that she was there.
When everyone was looking at her expectantly, she continued.
"I think we can all agree that Rogue should've told us everything." She
aimed a hard look at her friend. "We *will* be talking about that later,
chica. We can all also agree that we've already changed one of your Dreams,
Sidre. How can you argue that?"
"I ..." The older woman sighed and sank onto a blanket. "When I was younger,
I wanted to believe that Dreams could be changed. That I could change the
future. I tried. My husband, Galdran -- I Dreamed his death. I tried to warn
"Oh, Sidre." Rogue crawled over to her and grasped her hand. "I'm sorry."
"He was working to clear an area of the forest with some other men of our
town. I saw that he would be killed by a tree falling the wrong way. I do
not know if he believed me when I warned him, but he knew enough to be
careful. But, it was not enough."
Rogue wasn't sure she wanted to hear anymore. "You don't have to--"
"He avoided being killed outright by the tree," Sidre continued, her voice
soft. "But he was still crushed. He lived for a week, painful week, before
he died. He died anyway. When my teachers told me later that Dreams could
not be changed, I believed them. I had to. Otherwise, I would have to
believe that I could have saved him somehow."
Rogue exchanged a glance with Jean, who had put an arm around Sidre's
shoulders. The pain in her voice had silenced everyone in the tent, and
Rogue wasn't sure what to say.
"Well," Sidre said briskly, shrugging off both Jean and Rogue and pushing to
her feet. "That is an old pain. We must deal with now. I do not know if your
plan will work, but I do not have a better one."
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