Chapter 23

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LILY was sparring with Brennon, and she had defeated him multiple times, easily. Not that he was too disappointed, given that his strong suit was archery, but it was still a point to gloat about.

Brennon took the teasing good-naturedly. It was probably due to Iressa holding his hand throughout their lunch break, a fact which none of the others ignored.

"The wedding is coming soon, isn't it?" Ada asked, her eyes bright. Lily nodded. Arianna and Arlo were soon to be husband and wife, something that she was both looking forward to and dreading. "I'm so excited," Ada continued, looking down at her food with a soft smile.

"As am I," Venix said.

Vena looked at him, brows furrowed, and lips pursed, "Are you sure? As far as I recall, you've always thought weddings were a waste of time and coins."

Venix's face flushed. "There'll be good food at this one. And wine – it's the Head's wedding, I'm sure we'll all enjoy it."

"Hear, hear," Brennon said, grinning – until Iressa elbowed him sharply, her eyes narrowed.

"You're not drinking too much, you understand? You get much too cranky in the morning."

"How would you know that?" Vena asked, grinning mischievously.

Iressa gave her a flat look, "Because I've known him since he was a child the height of my knee, and I've been around him after he's drunk quite a lot, in all those years."

Vena just leaned back, grinning, and Brennon saluted like they were all used to doing to the Colonel, "Yes, your highness."

Iressa snorted and turned back to her food, a small smile playing around her mouth.

"Does everyone have something suitable to wear?" Ada asked, sounding in that moment exactly like Arianna, who had begun fretting about the event.

"Yes – a very heavy dress, unfortunately." Vena grunted, frowning.

Lily chuckled. "I'm sure you'll look beautiful in it."

"Not as beautiful as I'll look with my sword to your throat," Vena glared, a spark of playfulness in her eyes.

Lily shrugged, "Good luck with that."

Vena pursed her lips and returned to her food. She'd begun losing more frequently to Lily, and Lily just loved teasing her about it.

The usual shout from Colonel Ulima signaled the end of their meal time, and Lily returned to sparring with Brennon, who was once again her partner.

"Go easy on me, I'm already sore," he said, shifting his sword uncomfortably in his hand, giving her a pleading look.

Lily raised an eyebrow, "Not a chance. Doesn't the Colonel always say that pain makes you a better soldier?"

Brennon snorted, "Whoever listens? And besides, I'm just fine with being a mediocre soldier."

Something about the way he said the statement seemed off to Lily, and she pursed her lips. "Brennon, why did you choose to be a soldier?"

She could see the hesitation on his face, see him deciding whether or not to tell her. She wouldn't push if he decided not to.

Finally, he sighed, straightening out of his fighting stance. "I have to support my mother – she's sick, and this was the best option. It gives me enough money, and it didn't require much."

Lily nodded slowly, debating if she should ask –

Brennon obviously caught her unsure look, as his shoulders slumped further, and he said, "My father is dead. He was murdered."

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