At last there’s a day when the sky dawns brittle-clear, blue from horizon to horizon. The bright dagger-like air ringing with cold. The blizzard is over.
Under that hard sky the world is all soft, every hard edge whitened, velveted over. Sculpted snow overhangs, puffs of silken ice and cushions of snow, high peaks and tiny trees alike all buried and smoothed like much-stroked fur. Only the shadows are diamond-sharp, slashes of sky-blue cutting into the vast whiteness of mountain and valley.
Drifts taller than a rider on horseback surround the Crag. Some of the men draw lots and winch four of their number down from the lowest of the beast-holes, with shovels and jokes. Their encouragement is worded with humour but there’s an unspoken joy in the chance of freedom after almost a fortnight shut up in the fortress. It takes all morning but they clear the main gateway before the midday meal is served, and there are cheers from both sides as the doors are hauled open at last to let them back in. Even Saw comes limping into the entrance hall, to make his way carefully, staff in hand, as far as the daylight. He grins savagely, looking up at the blank white sea-crests of the mountains. The road is impassable, and there are a hundred avalanches-in-waiting, up there.
“We’re safe now till spring, no army on earth can come upon us through this.”
Just the same, he gives the order for daytime and evening patrols. The soldiers strap on snowshoes eagerly and quarter the valley floor and the frozen riverbanks. They report no sign of people, but the spoor of winter deer in the lowlands, and scores of snow-grouse.
Cassian huffs happily at mention of the grouse, and Jyn grins as she remembers. The smell, the taste, that one small grouse fresh grilled on an open fire; the glow of warm flames in the cold, and stars above like a vast cloak of dust fallen across heaven.
No-one would call that journey enjoyable. Rationally speaking it was nothing of the kind; she was cold and hungry and tired, and bitterly sad at the loss of her home and her life. Yet the memory now is sweet. It was a time between times, just the two of them alone and safe with one another in the world. No confusion, no choices or doubts. Just her and Cassian and the mountains. There was a kind of joy, in their solitude, in the nights by flickering firelight, the moment’s she realised she was teasing him and he, God bless him, he was teasing back, finding the same breath of gladness in these days stripped back to the barest essentials of survival. Joy even in the hard slog of climbing, the aching of muscles and the chill of snow. Good times. Together.
She smiles when Saw instructs the next patrol to take hunting bows “and take the wolf if he’ll go with you. He may be handy as a tracker.”
Cassian’s already standing beside Melshi, looking out alertly at the valley, snuffing the breeze.
Swift as the near-midwinter sun the sapphire and white day draws on, from morning brilliance round into shadows once again. Jyn waits. Trying to tell herself she is busily occupied, not hanging on to time by her clenched nails, until he comes back and is human, tonight, please God, please God, give him his own human voice tonight, give him his own true form and let him stand up free, he’s had to walk as a beast for so long. Telling herself she isn’t impatient, isn’t anxious, isn’t waiting for Cassian, no, not at all.
She’s working on the second of the great old spell-books now, copying, her grimoire filling up though she writes as small as she can; and as she reads the spells, she’s testing a few hand movements to feel the shape of the Force under them, and slowly, cautiously, mouthing some of the words over. These are charms of a potency that both daunts and entices her. At the midday meal she watches Maia and wonders when she’ll feel ready to say I found something that might help you. If that healing spell helps Maia, it might help Saw also. She wonders, and shies away once again from the spike of alarm in her mind.
Wonders then what she would see, if she completed the spell to read signs of the future. The very idea is unnerving; she’d never known such a thing was possible till now. The spell-book promises no more than hints, indications of what might be, and the truth might yet follow any of a dozen branching roads. But it’s still a new kind of fear, to imagine knowing what might be.
Supposing she spoke the incantation and wove the enchantment, lifted and shaped the threads of the Force to open the veil of fixed time; and saw their failure, their deaths. How then to escape that awareness? - knowing that one of the choices ahead might lead to that. Merely imaging it is paralysing.
Better not to know. Better not to try.
But, oh God, my God, all these possibilities are overwhelming and I am becoming afraid to try anything. I don’t know how to break free of it. Somehow I have to endure this until I can make a path through.
She spends the afternoon practising small magics; lifting and moving snippets of fabric from Bodhi’s sewing, reaching out with her senses to touch the little anxious minds of mice in the cellars, insects in the rafters. Resisting the longing to stretch out further, and call to Cassian; because tonight, tonight please God, she will not need to reach him with her mind. Tonight he’ll be here.
The sky is still clear, cold lemon yellow in the west, inky-soft overhead. A moon a few days off the full rises into the late afternoon blue. Soon, soon, the day will be gone. Clear sky of twilight, fat apple of a waxing moon, and the bitter cold is biting again as the daylight weakens. She hears the patrol coming back and their voices bouncing cheerfully in the bitter-cold air, and her heart is running fast as a girl’s, her feet running also, because the sun has set. Moonlight pure and silver comes through every window, and the garrison are lighting lamps. Jyn races up the passageway. There’s a delight bubbling in her like the rushing of a thawed river. She bursts into the chamber they still share with the herald, and Bodhi is not there, but Cassian, yes, yes, Cassian is.
He’s barefoot still, but he’s pulled on breeches and a shirt and is tying his old jerkin. Still the same rough clothes I made him, we must get him something warmer now –
- and beyond that she is not thinking more, she’s just moving, the impulse of joy carrying her feet forward; she goes to him with her arms open, and he smiles, standing, astonishingly real and human, and catches her gladly in his embrace.
Jyn remembers blinking with scrunched eyes, just a few hours ago in the morning sun, remembers seeing rainbows in her lashes, feeling the brightness on her skin like hope. The same fearful joy as she feels now. He’ll go again, he’ll be wolf again so soon; but he won’t leave. There’s a strong heartbeat under her cheek. The goodness at the seat of the soul, much bruised but alive and undeniable. Wolf or man, Cassian has a pulse strong as the beat of an eagle’s wings. Constant, steady, as he is.
“I’ve missed talking to you so much,” she says, muffled in his shirt.
His arms tighten around her and he bends in, burying his face in her neck. There’s something both vulnerable and protective in the movement, and she holds tighter to him in response. The bare chill of his skin gives her goosebumps. Yet his voice is as warm as joy. “I’ve missed you too, Jyn.”
He’s still smiling. She can hear it. It feels so good, to hold him, to be held. Too good. They break apart. She cannot tell who initiates it. Doesn’t want to know. They held one another, and they let go, and she wishes they had not.
She’s momentarily breathless, and Cassian says in a gasp “There’s so much we need to talk about.”
“Yes, yes, there is…” and it’s best they should get on with that conversation, discuss plans, share ideas; the lost princess, the little stars of death, her mother. Melshi has told her of his suspicions about the one trustworthy guard, Cassian was there then, he will have heard all his old friend’s theories, he must have so much to say. He wants to fulfil his oath to the royal house he served once, to restore freedom to Yavine with a true queen, one with the power to defend her people. She wants to find her mother, find her and save her, and help her undo the wrongs she’s been forced into. All this, this is what they should be discussing now.
Not standing and smiling at one another, and not moving. She’s caught like a fish on a lure, fixed, looking up at his dear face while her heart dances. He is so kind and so glad in his humanity, and he’s strong as so few people she’s known have been strong, with a strength that doesn’t need to overcome anyone else, that simply is and does not try to prove itself.
She shouldn’t be feeling herself come alight with hope at last, just because of the hope and the strength that come off him.
His beard has grown, and his hair is getting untidily long once again. Without thinking she brushes at it with a fingertip. Pulls her hand back in astonishment at herself. Oh, what am I doing?
Then helplessly, happily, reaches up again.
And very gently, as if expecting her to strike him away, he raises his own right hand, and touches her cheekbone, and a lock of her hair. His eyes are steady on hers, shy, glad. The same shy gladness wraps her with the warmth in their tiger-stone brown; and his smile slowly widens in the stillness.
One day, one day, please God, I’ll see his eyes in sunlight. Please let it be so. One day, when the curse is broken.
Oh. Oh, Cassian, my heart.
Oh, if she could dive into those eyes and rest there, and be at peace. She catches at his hand and clasps it for a moment.
I must not burden him with this. In the face of everything he must bear, my affections are so small. Trivial, unimportant, when there’s a whole world to be fought for. And if he were only free of this curse he could be out there, standing up and fighting beside his princess and his people.
A breath, a last squeeze of his hand. Such a lean, strong hand, such a hand as I could wish to have near me always.
But I’ve no right to want that. Somewhere out in the world there is someone who can free you, who can do what I cannot. What I dare not.
She takes a deep breath and drives everything away. “Cassian, you’ve had to listen to all of us these ten days while we talked. It must have driven you mad.” She’ll tell herself she’s only going to focus on the strategy, that nothing really matters now save the plans they must make. Tell herself whatever she must, to hold back the dream of it all being different. Look at the world you’re living in, the real one, not the one of wishes that cannot come true. Look at it and be honest with yourself; you’ll do nothing but harm if you try to break his curse, and you’ll keep him from his true path, besides.
But he chuckles at her comment and his laugh is rusty and musical. The sound sends joy through her, sharp as a lance. No, no, think about the future, the stratagems we must set in place, the war we must fight. Else I must face the fact that sooner or later I will have to let you go. “Are we mad to make plans like these?” she asks him breathlessly. The idea of losing him locks inside her, trapping hope behind her ribs, shaking it till it’s almost pain. “What are your thoughts?”