This comes after Rafe has been dragged home, wounded. This scene takes place as Rafe is sorting her things getting ready to go back to the front.
“You promised.” Jenna had never whined in her life, and she didn’t now. She snarled. “And now you’re leaving. Again.”
Rafe continued sorting through the rubble dumped in the middle of the bed. Piles to be given away were taking shape and she was repacking as she went along. She had been snarled at before. Commanders did that. The best commanders knew when to listen. For an instant she considered conciliation. But she set sisterhood aside along with the red embroidered shawl she had found at the bottom of her rucksack. “This can go to Fiona,” Rafe said as she folded the wrap and laid in yet another pile on the bed.
“What? Not trying to buy me off with frufru?” Jenna folded her arms, wedging them between her breasts and swollen belly. “You did that before. And I believed your lies.”
What was it that sent her straight back to childhood? Rafe fought the urge to look around for Ma to pop up in support of her favorite daughter, singing that hated mantra Look at your poor sister. You’re older; you should know better. She supposed it was true, now. Finally. Only Jenna had never been the poor sister, and Ma was long gone. But, still, Rafe was older with all her experience on the line. She knew to keep her eye on the target, to predict where the feints would lead. “You are right. I promised you and I promised Ducky. I meant it when I told you I would be back. I meant it when I gave my pledge with the necklace. And I meant it when I gave Ducky the bag I made. Circumstances change, Jenna.”
Rafe remembered her sixteen year old self formally saying good-bye to her childhood under the drooping willow. It had been years since she was young enough for such play. Even Jenna was starting to get too old. She would be apprenticing soon, and, of the three of them, only Ducky would be left. He, of course, would have brought his own group of friends.
Rafe poked through the memory of that last picnic by the river to see if there was anything that would help her now. They had all been so young. She had been called “Rafaella” then as much as “Rafe.” She could think of only a hand-full of people in her life, the one away from Riverside, who even knew her birth name, and fewer who would ever use it. But in that moment on the bank she had been Rafaella for the last time.
Jenna had been the one to organize the food. Rafaella and Ducky had hauled the basket and rug to the drooping willow tree beyond the bend. Ducky removed the cache of stones and set them in little shafts of sunlight, adding to the glittering pirates’-lair effect.
Jenna opened the basket and doled out the bread and cheese. She poured the stolen wine, un-watered, into a single cup they would share. She raised the cup and took a sip. “To your Sojourn.” Rafaella reached for the wine, but Jenna didn’t release her hand. “And to the pledge you will make.”
“What pledge?” This was so typical of Jenna, always looking for something more. Couldn’t she just say “farewell” and be done with it.
“You are sixteen.” Jenna waited, eyebrow raised, until Rafaella nodded. “And you are leaving to go into the world, as is your right.”
Again Jenna waited and again Rafaella nodded, thinking how much she would enjoy not to feel like a minion to a nine-year-old. She tugged at the cup, but Jenna tightened her grip.
“But what about my turn? What about my right to leave and learn? What about my right to adventure?”
“What about it?” Rafaella had replied, dropping her hand from the cup. “You’ll go. You’ll make your mark on the Memory Oak and leave.”
“And who will take care of Ma? Who will take over the smithy?”
“Ba has apprenticed Boyer. He’ll take Ducky.” She noticed her brother sneaking a piece of cheese from her dish and smacked his hand. With his eyes fixed on his sisters, Ducky’s other hand started wandering toward Jenna’s plate. “Ba would even take you, if you wanted. You’re stocky enough. Why trouble me with this? I’m leaving. I’m going to soldier and win a fortune. You can do the same.”
“One of us needs to take care of Ma and Ba, and take over the smithy when the time comes. Ducky is useless.” Jenna’s free hand slammed down on Ducky’s tiny one, filled with her cheese. “And Boyer is not family. It has to be one of us.”
“Why not come back after seven years? You’re good at fine work. You can tool leather. Give me a chance to see if I like it away from here. You could run things as you like. I wouldn’t be here to boss you around. I’m sure you’d like it better that way.”
Rafaella looked at her sister, Jenna, shining face like the new dawn, blue eyes, and rosebud lips, the favorite of Ma and Ba, and the focus of Rafaella’s discontent. Jenna looked like an angel, but the face masked a will of iron no one would ever mold into anything she did not want to be. Rafaella nodded to herself. Riverside would be a very different place without Jenna. And besides, most sojourners returned after two or three years.
“You will leave when I return in seven years?”
“Of course. Don’t you trust me? C’mon, we’ll pledge together. In seven years you will return to Riverside and I will leave on my own Sojourn.” Jenna took a sip of wine and passed the cup to Rafaella.
Rafaella drank, watching Jenna over the lip of the cup. “I will return in seven years.”
Jenna took the cup back and filled it again. “To your Sojourn, Rafaella.”
Jenna’s smile beamed and she drank. “To your Sojourn, Rafe.”
“But you never returned.”
“No I didn’t. Until now.” Dust motes hung between them as Rafe snapped a shirt in the air before folding it.
“Twenty-three years later. And you wouldn’t have come home if you hadn’t been dragged. And now you’re going away again.”
Rafe looked at her sister without heat. “I was in the middle of something. As were you.”
“What difference would it have made? Ma was ill and dying. You were pregnant. You would never have left and that was part of the pledge, too.”
“You knew that? Or did you just figure it out?”
“I knew it. Both things.” Rafe remembered the twofold joy at hearing of Jenna’s condition. Her perfect sister had made a mistake, and she would be the one trapped in Riverside. Briefly Rafe had considered returning to her mother’s deathbed. She had decided to let that be Jenna’s duty, too. Rafe had wanted a kind word, forgiveness, an apology from her mother when the woman was still alive, not when she was fearing for the next life.
“You hated us that much? You never even thought to say good-bye to Ma?”
“No. Hate had nothing to do with it. I hadn’t been away long enough. If I had come back here it would have been the same. Even with Ma dead. You would still have tried to be the boss of me. Old habits and all. It’s different now. We’re both different now.”
“You’re still going.”
“Yes. But I am not leaving. You or Riverside. I am returning to my life. My place in the world.”
Rafe picked up a clutch of five silver bells she had fastened to Flasher’s bridle when they were on parade. “Take these for the baby. Tell her about her auntie.”
“I’ll tell her what I know. Which isn’t much.”
“I’ll be back to tell her more.”