Sunday, August 5, 2007


They set out into the cold spring dawn and arrived at base camp as everyone was finishing breakfast. Ikea noticed them first and jumped up, spilling her coffee. "You're back!"

The other girls left the warmth of the campfire and gathered around Diana's horse. Tiffany held the bridle while she dismounted. For a moment everyone stared at her, unsure what to do next, then Coyote pushed through the crowd and solved the problem by throwing his arms around Diana's waist, nearly squeezing the breath out of her. "I'm glad you came back.”

"It's good to see you."

He stepped back, startled. "Really?" He grinned and waved Macy over from where she had been standing outside the circle, leaning on Robert's cane. "My girlfriend missed you."

Diana gave Macy a cautious hug. "I’m glad you're doing better. I was worried about you."

"Don't be silly. No one ever worries about me."

Before Diana could answer, the other girls closed in, touching her, hugging her and asking questions without waiting for answers. Their casual comments said nothing and implied everything as they scanned her face for clues to the meaning of her return. Diana answered everyone, her head up and her eyes scanning the group for the only people she needed and dreaded to see.

And then she saw them— Amalia hurrying from the mines, trailed by Harley and Robert. Diana felt Will put his arm around her waist, a move which raised a few eyebrows among their friends and which made Sachi narrow her eyes in suspicion.

But before anyone could figure out the meaning of this behavior, Amalia pushed through the group and drew Diana to her. "We were worried about you." She took a step back and sized her up. "The guard came two days ago and said you'd left the safe house. But when you didn't show up..." she turned to Will with a puzzled frown. "Where were you? Surely you didn't get lost. Did a horse go lame?"

"No, Mother. We stopped to get married."

She stared as if he had spoken in some language she had known long ago and had to think about. The sudden silence of the group confirmed she had heard him correctly and she turned to Diana, who lifted her chin. "Well," Amalia said coolly, "I suppose after you finish saying hello to your friends you'll want to get your things from my tent. Will can show you where it is." She walked away, leaving Diana staring after her.

She didn't have time to think because Robert came up to her. Although he still walked with a limp, two months of training had left him tan and strong. She had never seen him look so handsome and felt suddenly ill. She lowered her eyes, wishing she could disappear into the earth and be spared this moment.

With the cold, formal manner of a diplomat, Robert shook Will's hand, then Diana's. All he said was, "Congratulations," but the note of contempt in his voice was unmistakable and it sapped nearly all of Diana’s remaining courage.

The next few minutes passed in a blur of hugs, hand-shaking and congratulations. Some of it was sincere, some sarcastic. Harley expressed the hope that they wouldn't be distracted from training. Coyote wore a puzzled look and Sachi seemed angry for no reason Diana could see. Boeing laughed as if the whole matter were a joke. Diana bore it all stoically, trying to project an air of confidence, but was relieved when Will announced they were going to look for a place to pitch their tent.

Coyote and Macy were eager to help, and Dell and Juniper offered to lead their horses. They started up the path to the field where everyone was camping in the open air now that the weather was warmer.

"You sure have a lot of stuff on these horses," Dell said, holding onto Flecha’s bridle.

"Wedding presents."

"From who?"

"The people in the town where we got married," Will said. "They were real nice to us."

"Why didn't you come here and get married where your friends are?" Juniper asked.

Dell silenced her with a look.

They got to the campground and at Coyote's insistence, selected a spot near his tent. "We'll be neighbors. Go inside my tent and rest," he told Diana.

She shook her head, but Will overruled her. Macy led Diana into the small tent and they sat on bedrolls while the men worked. "Are you okay?" Macy asked, noticing Diana's pale, clammy skin.

"Why wouldn’t I be?”

"You just look like you’re not feeling so good. Do you wish you were back at the safe house?"

"Here's as good as anywhere. I'm no coward who has to live on a goat farm because she's ashamed to face her friends."

Macy looked at her curiously. "We don’t think the worse of you over what happened, and everyone knows you’re not responsible for the song."


"The one they’re singing in town, about La Bella Diana, killer of raiders and rapists. You’ve become a sort of folk hero." At the look of consternation on Diana’s face, she added, "But that’s good. You’ve got a reputation. Now you have Will to protect you, too."

"I suppose they'll add that to their little song— that I’m an incestuous slut who married her brother." She buried her face in her hands. "I don't know why I let him talk me into this."

"Into what? Everyone knows Will isn’t really your brother. And who cares what people think, anyway? When you love someone—"

“But I don’t.”

“Don’t what?”

“I don’t. . .” Diana looked into Macy’s trusting eyes and couldn’t get out the rest of the words.

1 comment:

Alice Audrey said...

Oh boy. If only she'd realized sooner.