Chapter 37 - Giving up

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I'll admit: I have a hard time making my characters suffer. I think I am going to write, I don't know, a fluff-fest, once this is over.

Three days later,  Abhan.

Cornelis

Cornelis ducked to avoid the empty jar of goat milk that was aimed for his head as he cautiously walked up to the shack which Phyllis had shut him out of three days ago.

Had shut all of them out of. Because while Phelan had managed to leave some food at the door step, and she had to have eaten some of it to be able to throw empty jars at him, Phelan hadn't managed to breach the magic barrier keeping the doors and window shutters shut either.

"Her energy is waning," Raghnall told Cornelis, feeling his way closer to him with his staff through the grassy wheat fields, now reaching almost to their middle.

Cornelis gave Raghnall a quick downward glance. Part of him had never grown used to the moment he outgrew the man. None of him would ever get used to the black blindfold, obscuring and protecting empty eye sockets from the ever-present dust late spring brought about.

Light was waning too, and Raghnall's sharp features were softened by the evening air. The last few days had been bright and warm, far much brighter than their future.

"I would have expected her to have gone down long before now," Cornelis told Raghnall, voicing his surprise. "I don't think she's ever done something like this before. Created a shield. Let alone one this big."

Raghnall shook his head. "The shield isn't draining her. That is her healing's doing. She could protect the entire village this way. But she needs to stop trying to keep that boy alive."

Easier said than done. With Masha gone, the only help Phyllis could hope for was from Raghnall himself. And he seemed to be the only person she was more desperate to keep away than Cornelis.

Raghnall confirmed that thought: "There is nothing to be done until she gives up. When she does, bring her to me."

He walked away. Back straight, steady and quiet, just like he had always been. Raghnall didn't reproach, he assessed. And so did Cornelis. He had been assessing the moment he investigated the wagon for over three days now. Where had they been? How by Bellissima had he overlooked three people in such a tiny space? One scrawny boy could have hidden behind the sacks of grain stashed together in the corner. But never three of them.

Phyllis had made the same assessment. She had startled him out of his mind, firing that arrow. No matter how premature her action, he had watched it sail with boundless joy. All those evenings Phyllis spent in Raghnall's hut hadn't amounted to anything but the realization that her powers couldn't be faked; the fight had to be real.

Now it was. Raghnall seemed confident that Phyllis could stand her ground. That the moment to strike was now, when Drusus's guard was overstepping its boundaries by abducting young children well before they had any right to, even according to their own, Roman laws. But Phyllis was no longer on their side of the fence. She wasn't even on the battlefield. His mistake had knocked her right off.

Again.

Cornelis had, for the past three days, felt like the events around him unfolded while he watched from the side-lines. Phelan tried, to no avail, to coax Phyllis out of her self-made prison. Cornelis passed to the others the orders Raghnall provided him, with an authority that couldn't possibly be his own. If he could not even trust his own eyes, how could he inspire faith in others?

And yet he managed. Somehow.

Everyone knew retaliation was on it's way, and yet they didn't panic. They were eager, and fierce and he was not.

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