The word ‘try’ caught her tongue with the feeble insistence of foam struggling to break the surface. You saved me. So I’ll try to place my trust in you. It wasn’t so much a sentiment as it was a passing half-thought making a traitorous demand to be vocalized. Fenimore held it off regardless.
She didn’t say it because it wouldn’t be true. She didn’t trust Senel, and she didn’t trust the people with him – the swordswoman or the sheriff or the bandit or the girl who blew bubbles at things to chase them away.
It figured, Fenimore thought. All the people who lived in the land, and this was the best they could come up with to lead their side of the fight. And she needn’t forget that Vaclav was one of their kind to begin with. She clutched harder at her dress’ skirt. If that didn’t speak for the state of things, then nothing would.
She didn’t trust Orerines, and she’d said as much. Satisfaction twisted in her stomach. She’d lived her life an honest girl, but that'd been the first time it brought her pride.
“Really, it's none of my concern what happens to you.”
But then, of course, she remembered Shirley. And suddenly Fenimore wasn’t sure of what to feel anymore.
My brother isn't like that! Don't talk about him that way!
Strange how you took for granted how much of the world you understood, until the day came when you didn’t, anymore. And then you stand there, upended inside, feeling like you’d never truly understood anything at all.
Fenimore had thought that sounded like what growing up would feel like. Except, when Shirley had held her hand in the dim depths of the waterways, pressed the seashell into her palm so the tiny grooves threatened to indent, she hadn’t felt like an adult at all.
She’d felt scared, like a child, and angry; angry at this girl and her traitorous ways and the faith she held onto like a lifeline and so innocently requested Fenimore to share. Angry that she could afford to have faith in somebody at all, while Fenimore’s own bruised and chafed under the weight of captivity. Shirley’s voice and hands and eyes had been as gentle as anything, and for that Fenimore was angry too. How could you stay this way and not suffer badly for it?
It had felt so terribly unfair. But she was no stranger to the feeling. And besides, if Fenimore had wanted to spend her days resenting her fate rather than weathering it, she would have started long ago.
But she knew, too – she could always have looked away. Shattered the shell and spat on what Shirley claimed was worth believing in. She’d had her choice; she hadn’t taken it.
(The eternal question: why?)
This was the truth Fenimore understood more keenly now than ever: when it came to Shirley, perhaps she’d never had much of a choice at all.
It was strange. She’d never believed in something as strongly as she’d once believed in the Merines, and yet it was the girl and not the title that she ultimately chose to be her satellite. Four thousand years’ worth of hope had faded into a dim flicker next to one girl’s request to be heard. To be trusted. Funny how that worked.
She trusted Shirley. That much was true. She would try and trust Senel if it meant making her happy, and that was the problem, wasn’t it? She couldn’t trust Orerines, and she couldn’t make Shirley happy. When it all came down to it, she couldn’t even be the one to save her.
And Fenimore wasn’t stupid. There would never be a world in which her own happiness measured so much as half compared to the joy the two of them would come to share. She could imagine it already: every shared secret and every cloying look, though the taut coil of jealousy in her chest was very much real.
But the world ran on sacrifices, and she’d survived long enough knowing that was true. If there was anything in the world she could claim to still be certain of, that would be it.
She would just have to try a little harder to remember it from now on.
“I'll never forgive you if you betray her trust. I'll be watching you.”
Shirley’s brother – not Senel anymore, not now – leveled a smile in reply. He looked genuinely thankful.
Fenimore’s mouth pressed into a line. Too benevolent, too warm. The first time someone who wasn’t her sister had looked at her like that, she hadn’t known what to do.
She turned and casted her gaze downwards. He wasn’t Shirley. She could afford to look away.
“I haven’t done anything,” Fenimore said, and watched the blurred shape of her own shadow waver against the dark. From the corner of her eye, he shook his head. She’d told him the truth, mostly.
The ache in her chest didn’t go away, even after they’d left for the battlefield and Walter had unceremoniously shooed her to the soldiers’ tents to deliver their food. In a moment of pause she ran an absent thumb across the lines of raised skin patterning her left forearm, blinking mutely when a spasm of remembered pain overlapped with the real one.
She thought of Shirley then, her reason for trying, and felt something inside her clench. She’ll probably never know, Fenimore thought, and it wasn’t bitter at all. She wanted Shirley to be happy, truly.
She clasped her palm shut, tried to remember the fleeting warmth of another caught inside it. This too hurt, and she told herself that was all right. She’d learned to live with worse afflictions before, after all.