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Oh. Oh, no.

How long had it been since this had happened? Months, surely. A year or more?

But Cazaril felt the hot prickles behind his eyelids, saw the royina's private sitting room begin to blur—and knew that he was helpless to stop the flood.

He sank onto a bench, cradling the sword gently in his lap, and covered his face as the weeping overcame him. At least the tears were silent this time; his shoulders jerked and shook, but there were no desperate gulping sobs to shame him further.

Skirts rustled—the bench creaked—a warm arm curled around him. Betriz. He had to stop making a spectacle of himself, for his wife's sake if for no other reason.

Cazaril drank in lungfuls of perfumed air until the weeping stopped and his breathing evened out. With his eyes screwed shut, he felt for a handkerchief in the pocket of his tunic and wiped his face.

Even once he opened his eyes, he did not look up.

"I ask your pardon, Royina, Royse," he rasped. "That was behavior unbecoming to a chancellor of the royacy."

"Caz." Was that Iselle, touching his cheek with cool steady fingers? "Bergon didn't do this for the chancellor of the royacy. He did this for Lupe dy Cazaril. And if Lupe dy Cazaril needs to weep for a moment, then let him weep."

Cazaril blinked hard and hefted the sword in both hands. He pulled the blade partway out of the scabbard, watching the candlelight glint on fine steel.

"It's been polished," he murmured, still unsure of his voice.

"It has." Bergon sounded pleased with himself. "I had the finest swordsmith in Cardegoss work it over thoroughly. Besides, that Roknari general only kept it hung on his wall as a decoration—it hasn't been in use."

Cazaril stood, then, and fastened the sword at his belt. His sword. The first thing lost after Gotorget was the last regained.

Something eased, deep inside. He knew—though he would surely cry, or grieve, or hurt again someday—tonight was the last he would weep.

. * fin * .