After the battle was done, a worried William and Kaelyn converged on Aren. He reassured them that he was alright, but he couldn't fault their anxiety; his chainmail had saved his life, but it had taken a real beating in the process, and wouldn't be much good if they found themselves in another battle before they could get it repaired.
"Let me take a look at it," said William, and Aren took it off for him to inspect. Even he, though, could tell that it needed rather substantial repairs, and there was no good, unexposed place to camp nearby that he could see. It might even be easier to replace, given the abundance of gold in their coinpurse, if the next town had an armor shop. (A strange concept for Aren – he'd always worn clothes until they couldn't be repaired and became the rags that he used to clean tables at the inn. But since they kept running into bandits with stolen gems, or cracking open chests abandoned on the road by plague-stricken nobles, they had come into enough wealth to buy half of Briala.)
"Here," Kaelyn said, reaching to take off her own chainmail. "I'll give you mine until it's repaired and wear yours instead."
"You don't have to," Aren protested, but Kaelyn gave him a hard-eyed look after she finished drawing it off.
"Aren, you might be fine if it's only bandits next time, but if we have another run-in with Shepherds, you'll be in real danger. Every time we've fought them, they go straight for the mage."
"Well, yes, but... if they can see you're wearing damaged armor, won't they target you instead?"
"They can try," she said.
"You've gotten pretty handy with the fireballs and lightning," said William. He handed the armor over to Kaelyn, who traded him the good armor and shrugged on the damaged one. "I think you can fry them before they finish getting past her arrows."
"If you're sure," Aren said dubiously, and now it was him who was worried about her, seeing how it looked on a person. When William pressed the mail into his hands, though, he donned it and crouched by his bag. "You should take some of my Senwater," he said. "Just in case." He pulled out a half-empty bottle and held it up. Before she could refuse and say that he needed the healing water more, with the toll magic took on his body, he added, "I have three more bottles in here."
"Now that that's settled," said William, turning back to the bodies of the bandits they had just cut down. "Let's see if they have anything useful and get moving before more come after us."
As Aren poured more gold coins from the bandits' pockets into their overstuffed purse, the weight of the mail felt different from usual. It had to be his imagination, of course – Kaelyn's mail was the same standard stuff that his was. But when he brushed the hem with his fingertips, it still felt, somehow, like hers.
It felt different, but he didn't mind. It was like an extension of the trust between the three of them, a reminder that they were here and together when they didn't have to be, trying to keep the others alive and well until the end of their journey.