The icy wind of late autumn howls through the night, and the rain freezes as it falls. Every time a gust shakes the branches, they clatter like a hundred tiny swords. Grateful for the warm vest that fits beneath his armor padding, Kaim runs a whetstone over his blade, damaged from the previous day’s battle, and tries to ignore the nervous chatter of the men who share the tent.
The man who talks the most is fair-haired and almost too young to be wed, sharing a wineskin with four gray-haired fathers who have outlived their sons. Not one of them is a soldier; they are farmers and millers and blacksmiths, and they are out in the cold because their king has run out of soldiers and still will not surrender. They battle to defend their home, the tiny village just east of the forest.
“Where’s home for you, Kaim?” the young man calls.
It’s a question he’s heard thousands of times over hundreds of years, one way and another, and it’s always had the same answer. Kaim shrugs, absently checking the edge of his sword. “Tosca,” he says.
And stops, uncertain for a moment what he just heard, because it wasn’t what he meant to say at all.
“Oh, Tosca,” one of the older men nods, “I have a nephew who moved out that way. Nice area. Too rocky for proper crops, though.”
The conversation moves on without him. Kaim puts away the sword and gazes blankly at the side of the tent. The wind rattles the ice again and shakes the leather sides, but Kaim hardly notices the chill; his vest is well-crafted, and Sarah enchanted it for him on his last visit.
He’s known where the scholarly immortal woman chose to live for hundreds of years, and since she is a friend and a reliable guardian, Kaim has often left part of his mercenary income in her care over the centuries. In the last fifty years, he found himself drawn back to Tosca more often, straying no farther than a few months’ travel.
He never realized, until he heard it from his own tongue, that Sarah’s gentle smile has somehow crept in to define his concept of home.
The young man laughs as he fends off teasing about the girl the whole village apparently knows he plans to marry. Kaim sees the glint of iron resolve in the faces of the older men, that they will protect this piece of the future with their lives.
Kaim thinks about Sarah.
He has fallen in love more times than he cares to add up, and every time, under the affection and attraction, there has been a pounding urgency, the drive to make the most of the short years. If he looks away, even for a moment, the ones he loves will age without him, wither and fall to dust.
There is no urgency with Sarah. She has always been there, steady anchor to his restless wanderings, and he cannot imagine a world without her. More than kingdoms, oceans, or mountains, he trusts that Sarah will not change.
Maybe that’s why it’s taken him several hundred years to realize that he is, in fact, desperately in love with her. Unlike any other immortal he has met, unlike himself, Sarah will never let the endless years make her hard or unfeeling; she seeks no power, no applause, no wealth, concerned only with helping people and preserving what would otherwise be forgotten. When he goes back to Tosca, in two months or a century, he’ll find her defending her village, and still ready to leap to the aid of a stranger.
They may have all the time in the world, but Kaim has spent too long already blind to his own heart. He’s going to stay here and fight beside these men, because neither his own honor nor Sarah’s compassion would hold with leaving them. They’re going to defend this village, and they’re going to win.
But then, after the battles are over, when spring opens the mountain passes, Kaim will travel back to Tosca, to ask if Sarah will twine her eternity with his.