A Flash back prt1. Aranei and Milly

((Brinerest, Sarnia))

Roughly six and a half years ago

Milly watched from the small window in her kitchen as a new neighbor moved in, it was a lone woman. A tall, gruff but averagely built wood elf. As the few possessions she owned were moved in, Milly could see that she was a guard, by how she stood, and the movers were lower ranking guards.

Milly decided to introduce herself first. Putting on her shoes and taking the short walk next door. Approaching the woman Milly could now see how much taller than her she was. Standing nearly two heads taller, the woman was even a head taller than her husband.

“Good morning.” Milly said with a bright smile, “I live in the house right next door. I’m Milly Lanford.” Milly sort of chirped, her higher voice happy to meet someone new.

Aranei stared down at Milly, her expression serious, though not annoyed as her voice would have led someone to believe “Lt. Aranei Leogolor”, the woman said. “A pleasure to meet you, miss, that is a lovely dress.” Aranei gave her a small bow, her voice much deeper in a juxtaposition of Milly’s. “Do you live in that big house all alone?”

“Oh…” Milly closed her eyes and waved a hand. “No no. I’m married.” she stated, but blushed a bit from the compliment. “What about you? Are you living all alone here?”

“Yes ma’am.” Aranei said. “My job keeps me too busy to have much time for relationships.”

“Oh that’s very unfortunate.” Milly gave a small frown, “I think I somewhat understand that feeling though. My husband John is a soldier. He’s been gone for sometime but I see him now and then.” gave Aranei a weak smile.

“Enough sadness.” she said, giving herself a little shake and putting her smile back on. “If you need anything I’m right next door don’t hesitate to ask.i won’t keep you from finishing moving in This town is small, and we gotta look out for each other.”

“Thank you for your hospitality ma’am.” Aranei said, still standing at attention.

Two months later

It was around noon and Milly was shopping for produce at the market. Stopping to have tiny conversations with the people she knew well, saying a kind ‘Hello’ to the rest. Walking happily down the street with her purchase she almost didn’t see Aranei walking out of the town’s butcher shop.

“Sorry ma’am.” Areanei said after nearly running over Milly.

Milly shook her head, “No it’s my fault. I should be paying more attention. You couldn’t have possibly seen me.”

“That is no excuse, a guard should be more vigilant.” Aranei proclaimed.

Milly stifled a tiny laugh, “Oh come now. You can relax a bit.” Milly tilted her head noticing Aranei’s nearly empty basket. “That’s not your dinner is it?” she asked, pointing to the packages filled with dry meats and pemmican.

“No ma’am.” she said. “Those are for after my guard shifts.”

“Is that all you eat after a long day?” Milly asked with a slight frown.

“Plenty of nutrients in them, half a day's meal in a block, Military folks use them and they’ve not steered me wrong yet.” Aranei said.

“Oh, okay.” Milly said. “I’ll leave you to finish shopping.” she gave Aranei a small wave before heading off.

--Two days later.

Aranei had just gotten off her shift, as she was unlocking her door she heard someone approach from behind her.

“Would you care for a home cooked meal?” Milly asked, standing behind her underdressed for the chilly night air. “I think someone who works so hard to keep the town safe should have a decent meal.” she added with a smile.

Aranei cocked an eyebrow. “What would your husband think having someone over so late?”

Milly waved it off. “He’s not here, and it’s just dinner with friends. Nothings wrong with that.”

“If it will make you less worried about me eating I will have dinner with you.” Aranei responded, following Milly back to her home.

The dish Milly had prepared was a cut of pork with a pan sauce, a hashbrown like potato side, and asparagus.

Aranei dug in, and the two made small talk the best one could with someone as stiff as Aranei. But she surprisingly enjoyed the company of this strange little human woman.

“Would you like another helping of potatoes or asparagus?” Milly asked, beginning to stand to go and get her guest more if she wanted.

“I wouldn’t wish to impose, or for you to use all of your food on me.” She told Milly.

“It’s no trouble at all. I want you to eat if you want more.” Milly smiled.

By the time they had finished eating and chatting only a small amount of the potatoes remained. The pork and asparagus had been finished off.

“Allow me to help you clean up.” Aranei said. “I insist. I must make some sort of gesture to repay your kindness and delicious meal.”

As the two washed dishes they chatted. Milly washed and Aranei dried.

“You said your husband is a soldier, correct?” Aranei asked, “Which company is he a part of?”

Milly chewed her lip for a moment. “I don’t really know. I know his general is General Grigs. But not much more than that.” she added. “I know his company gets called in to help out in other towns, and he’s traveled quite far this time. Something about a witch.” she said, handing Aranei a plate, and their fingers grazed each other. And Milly’s cheeks flushed red for a moment. The woman’s hands were worn like someone well trained in fighting.

Aranei paused for a moment. “Ah so he’s a Sarnian Church Knight? Is he a Witch Hunter or one of the Silver Snakes?”

Milly gave a tiny shrug. “I don’t really know. I overheard him talking to the man who came to get him and heard something about a witch and a heretic. But not anything else.” she looked at Aranei, “I’m not allowed to know much, he says it for my protection.”

“I see.” Aranei responded, “Don’t know what they meant by witch and a heretic? A bit vague considering the church’s views.” she said without thinking of Milly being part of the church, but caught herself. “I apologize, my views and the church’s views are just vastly different. I didn’t mean to imply anything.”

“It’s alright.” Milly said, “I don’t agree with everything they say either. But they are how my life stays above water and how my husband and I will be able to start a family one day.” she said half hearted, not fully convinced of the last part of what she said. “But I won’t think anything of it. I consider you a friend and that’s what matters to me, not the church you want to attend.”

“Well that is good to hear.” Aranei said.

After a short time they finished washing the dishes and Aranei headed for the door. “Thank you again for the meal. It was truly above and beyond anything you should have done.” she bowed and headed home.

---Several months later

After meal after meal together at night, one day they couldn’t. John was home, it was only for the night and he was to leave again. Aranei was arriving home at the tail end of an argument.

“Fine. You’re not worth the breath. I’m going to the pub.” John shouted, stomping out the front door and slamming it. Seeing Aranei standing at her own door, but noticed she was looking at him. “Mind your business knifeear,” he spat as he passed her. “Are we going to have a problem bitch?” he asked, standing in the road. “I have the authority to arrest you, get inside your house NOW!” he shouted, and Aranei went inside not wanting the trouble.

Aranei was going to go see if Milly was okay but the candle was blown out in her bedroom window before she could.

And the next day he was gone again.

Several days later:

Aranei hadn’t seen Milly in several days. After the fight she had a weary feeling and now even more so. She’d missed the dinners, and more so the company. After nearly a week of not seeing her even at the market Aranei went to check on her. She was a terrible cook, and the meal was simple and almost as burnt as it wasn’t.

“I realize it’s late and I but I’ve not spoken to you in several days, I was beginning to worry you were not eating. I am a gods awful cook but I thought you’d be in need of some company.”

Milly just started for a moment before letting Aranei inside. The house was nothing like she’d remembered. It was in a state of disarray. Nothing shockingly bad, Aranei had seen worse. But compared to how Milly’s home normally looked it was like something had run wild inside.

“I realize it’s not any of my business, but would you like to speak about what is wrong and what happened the day your husband was here?” Aranei asked. “He shouted at me in the streets, and I’ve seen men with temperaments like that on duty, someone angry enough to not even hide it in public is a man who needs to be watched.”

“He didn’t strike me.” Milly said, “He just shouted. He was mad because I wanted to talk and spend time with him rather than having relations.” she explained. “He got angry and stormed out, and if the letter he left is true then he’s leaving me as well.” Milly said somewhat blankly. “There isn't need for pity. I’ve cried all the tears I have to cry for that man. That hypocritical man.”

For one of the few times since the two had met Aranei showed a much more complex set of emotions. Sadness, anger but a drop of happiness that she wasn’t harmed when the man had lost his temper.

The two sat down to a meal, after a few moments of the only sound being the scrapes of fork to plate Milly put a piece of parchment on the table and pushed towards Aranei. Sliding the crumbled sheet to her Aranei took the tear stained page. Reading the note.

Dear Mrs. Grisome, This letter is to inform you that your Husband John Grisome has requested a dissolvement of your marriage and that it has been duly granted. It is hereby decreed by the power vested in the High Church, the goddess and the king that your matrimony is no longer recognized by the church. We must also inform you any attempts to remarry will be refused by the church, for two counts. Count one Adultery, Count two failure to perform wifely duties. Signed Bishop of the High Church.

Aranei put the paper down. “He truly over reacted, the man is a fool for leaving someone as kind as you over not ‘performing wifely’ duties. Whatever that might mean.”

“It means…” Milly started but was stopped.

“I know what it means,” Aranei said with a sigh, “but what it means is barbaric. A woman should have the choice to say she’s not in the mood for such things, without getting such undo backlash for it.”

“But the High Church says, when a woman is wed it's her duty to provide in the home as her husband does in the world.”

“You don’t actually believe that, do you?” she asked Milly. “You think you should have to be cooped up here just because he doesn’t… what? Want other men laying eyes on you? Is it fair he should be allowed to go out and drink himself a fool, and stare at the bar maidens just because he’s a man?”

“I don’t know…” Milly responded, “I just, I know things weren’t good between the two of us. He was always gone. ‘Doing the work of the High Church’ and not being together, I think we drifted apart but I wanted it to work, I knew that one day he’d be home, and he’d stay. Now...now I need to find a home I will be able to afford.” she sniffled. “Without his payment from his service to the church I won’t have anything.”

Chewing the words for a moment, Aranei looked to Milly, “My door is open to you if you need a place to stay. Just say the word I’ll have a key made for you and you can stay at my home. It's not much. It’s small but a small roof is better than no roof.” she added.

“I never did like this big house anyway. I took so long to clean, and it was far too big to be alone all the time. Made it feel emptier.”

--Three weeks later

After staying in her home for as long as she could, the money began to run out, and on top of that The High Church repossessed the house. Since it actually belonged to John. Milly packed the few possessions she owned, and on a drizzly overcast day she knocked on Aranei’s door.

“By the goddess come in…” she said, taking the small crate from Milly, “Go sit by the fire, You’ll catch your death if you don’t dry off.”

Milly shuffled off to the sitting room, and knelt near the fire. “I’ll get you a blanket.” Aranei said, placing a kettle near some of the coals. “Just, get out of those wet clothes, I’ll get you something fresh once you warm up a bit.”
“Thank you.” Milly said, shivering trying to unbutton her blouse. “You are too kind to me.”

“Nonsense.” Aranei said, coming back with a knitted blanket. “You’d do the same and much more for me.” she added. “So a blanket and a hot cup of tea is the least I can do.”

Milly gave half a chuckle and bumped her shoulder against Aranei’s arm. “I think this is the least proper I’ve ever heard you speak.” Milly smiled. “It’s nice, you sound much nicer when you are relaxed.”

“What can I say, you’ve grown on me and brought out a more relaxed me.” Aranei said and pushed back, forgetting her own strength for a moment, Milly spilled sideways on the floor with a thud.

“Are you alright!” Aranei asked with sudden concern, but Milly’s response was to burst into laughter.

“I was teasing you and you went too far.” Milly let out a huff, and out up and pushed back. Managing to catch Aranei off guard. Knocking the two ass over teakettle. Aranei on her back on the floor, Milly over top of her looking down, seeing Aranei’s shocked face, she started to laugh again, this made Aranei laugh. Two laughs so different were in a strange harmony. Milly’s trill, and Aranei’s hearty.

After a long moment of continued laughter, it died down, to a chuckle, and finally a few faded snickers. Aranei started up at Milly, and leaned her head up, into a kiss. She could feel Milly’s momentary shock as she twisted the blanket in her fists, but then she relaxed, Aranei expected her to pull away the moment their lips had touched. But she hadn’t, the few seconds that had passed had stretched out forever, and the snap back to reality as the kiss was broken felt like an instant hangover.

Milly’s cheeks were a burning red, as she brushed hair behind her ear. “I-is that what a kiss is supposed to feel like?” she asked.

“Did it feel good or bad?” Aranei asked.

“I-I don’t know.” Milly responded, “I…” She cut herself off, her being the one to kiss Aranei this time.

The next morning Milly awoke to the sounds of morning, head on Aranei’s strong shoulder. Feeling safer and more loved than she had in years, in one night.

--one year later

Over the weeks and months that passed since that night the two had settled into a sort of routine. Milly would make breakfast, and lunch before seeing Aranei off to work. Aranei helped to keep the home clean, and to do the harder chores such as chopping firewood. The two in their own happy little world not aware of the things outside their home. Tending to shy away from gossip they didn’t know people had been talking about their false marriage. In Milly’s religion she wasn’t allowed to remarry without the blessing of the church and especially not to another woman. Though the two were not actually married they had gotten rings as a promise that someday they’d find a way to get married, even if it meant moving.

Even though it was a sad day Aranei wanted to make it special for Milly. Even though it was a year ago she lost her house, it was the same day they found each other so to speak. Their anniversary. Knowing tonight was going to be at least somewhat special, her shift dragged on.

It wasn’t entirely odd to see a Knight of the Church or two wander in and out on any given day. But it was odd when the numbers were greater than that. She took note of them talking to the leaders and a few of the other men but didn’t take notice.

However she did when one came up to her. “We are performing a sweep looking for heretics today. We were given word that a groups of Followers of the King in Red were detected in this town. We ask that you stay at your posts and do not interfere even if you hear bells. We have it under control.” the deep voice, muffled by the helmet, told her. Everything about it felt wrong, just the sound of his voice caused the hairs on her neck to stand on end, let alone the words.

The way the man spoke nagged at her all day, and most of that night. A feeling like a storm was coming, that was only made worse when in the direction of the town she lived in, a small red glow started to illuminate the area. The alarm bells chiming for fire. Aranei’s sense of danger began to make her fidget. Keeping her eye past the wall, but turning to the fire in town, then back past the wall. Her brain was screaming at her to run, and ignoring orders, and risking prison time she tossed her helmet off her head and ran. She ran as hard as she could. Aranei needed to know that Milly was alright. She HAD to be.

Aranei rounded a corner and saw...it was their home. She pushed herself past the burning in her legs. “Why had this happened?” she wondered, but her mind flashed to people whispering in the market. She shook herself out of it, there wasn’t time to worry about that right now.

Reaching the front door she grabbed the door handle. It was molten hot and Aranei drew her hand a way with a hiss of pain. "Milly! Milly, are you in there?!" she shouted in fear. The thought of Milly trapped inside the burning house spurred her on and she wrapped her hand in her cloak to try to insulate it and grabbed the knob again, managing to turn it this time before the heat burned her hand. Embers and ash fell like rain as the old wood popped and crackled with the heat of the fire, landing on her and burning her ears and face. One large ember fell down the neck of her shirt. Burning her before she could put it out. Pushing her way through the blinding heat and smoke Aranei entered the bedroom Finding Milly in bed, out cold and Aranei could see she was very badly burned. Lifting her from the bed Milly let out a pained squeak of a groan, and coughed. As the house began to fall in, Aranei carried Milly out the back door. Limping into the dark, vanishing to be presumed dead.

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