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Silks & Scourges

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The long grass whispers secrets against the hitched fabric of her skirts as they rush around the far side of the estate, Sarah’s booted feet sure in their stride. She navigates the open fields with the nimble movements of a deer long accustomed to the terrain, and Tally follows precisely in her wake, hyper aware of the noises of the city on the wind and the possibility of a pitchfork touting mob coming shortly to end them all. Her heart pangs as she thinks of Penelope, trapped with a father such as Silver, who hates her for what she is and so can never truly know or appreciate her as he should. She wonders what will become of her gentle friend at his hands, if the suffering will turn her bitter and spiteful in time, if she will resent Tally for leaving without explanation. 

 

Tally very pointedly does not allow her thoughts to linger for more than a half a moment on the aches that are suspiciously sister shaped which bruise her soul as they scurry through the dark fields of her father’s estate. If she allows herself to imagine Raelle or Abigail she will not be able to bear it. The trio had, since their infancy, planned to reach all of the great milestones together - and now she would reach the greatest of all far from their reaches. Marriage, and to Sarah Alder no less. How can a body hold such terrible joy and wondrous loss at bay in the same breath? Tally certainly does not know, but she feels Sarah’s hand tighten its grip on her own and knows relief; she may be far from her sisters, but she is not alone, and will never be again. 

 

“Hold,” Sarah mutters softly, dropping to a crouch that Tally copies immediately. In the dark of the night, anyone who might be looking to see them would be hard pushed to pick their shapes out like this. “I fear we may have to rely on your gifts to guide us once we turn the corner to the front of the estate - I will watch our front, but if you could keep an eye at our backs?”

 

“I will do my utmost,” she replies. Tally looses a long calming exhale, concentrating on her gift, extending its bounds into a wide gossamer net that encompasses at least the field they have been running through last and just barely touches the fingertips of her free hand. It is a wide net she has cast, and should give ample warning if she can maintain it. She gives Sarah a determined nod, and they are up again, scurrying hand in hand around the corner into the front lawns. 

 

Somehow, despite the illusion of cover provided by the Manor House itself at their backs, the lawns feel more exposed by far than the fields. It is perhaps because the windows loom like eyes, ever watching their escape. “Bill should meet us at the gate,” Sarah whispers, sparing a glance back at the house herself. Tally wonders if she is thinking of Nicte, and whatever their complicated history entails, in this moment. 

 

Sure enough, Tally can see his dark silhouette moving gently at the gate where he is tied. “You did not want to stable him?” She asks, curious - after all, if Sarah had stayed the night poor Bill would have been left at the gate waiting for her.  Sarah laughs softly to herself, the soft chuffs of it lifting Tally’s spirits just to hear them.

“He has seen far worse than a night in the comfort of the lawns you know,” Sarah remarks, “Bill brought me through France and across the channel without complaint, and far more besides.” She is addressing Tally but her eyes are on the path ahead, just as Tally’s are on their trail, but she can sense the smile that lingers on Sarah’s lips, the quiet delight at such thoughts for a horse. Tally cannot help it, she has rather a soft spot for the creatures. 

 

She is about to say as much when the net she has loosed snags on someone, and then another, behind them. In an instant, her heart is in her mouth. They are out of time. “Sarah, behind us,” she gasps before spinning around with an almighty windstrike clattering behind her teeth just waiting to be loosed, and Sarah is at her side without a word, teeth glinting in a feral snarl in her mouth prepared to do what must be done to protect themselves, only to find familiar faces appearing from the darkness. 

Sarah deflates with a long suffering groan. “ Nicte . I have half a mind to loose that seed just to spite you! What on earth could have possessed you to forgo any greeting in such times as this,” she growls, glaring sharply at the figures emerging from the shadow of the house. “And you have brought Miss Silver into your idiocy as well. Did you not consider for even a moment that the safest place for her to be is perhaps not in the company of the two fugitives her father intends to have executed?” 

 

Tally is in absolute agreement with Sarah’s assessment of the situation, but she is also rather thrilled to see her friend again and have the chance to say a proper farewell. Nicte, to her credit, does not rise to the bait. Instead she simply rolls her eyes. “I didn’t realise you set such stock by manners; did you know it’s quite rude to abandon one’s friends in a house you dragged them to in the first instance? Obviously,” Nicte grins sharply, her attention drifting to Tally, “I intended to call out to you in some way but Tally here was simply quicker off the draw. You would have been a real leg saver in the militia, Red, that is for certain.”

 

It is difficult to argue with her logic. 

“I did not even hear the door open, let alone shut,” Tally says,  eyeing Nicte suspiciously, “tell me you have at least left my father’s house in the same condition that you found it in?”

 

“We climbed out the window in the parlour,” Penelope chimes in, pleased in the extreme, “I would never allow any harm to come to the house, Tally, you must believe me.”

She softens in face of Pen’s genuity. Penelope is like a baby sister Tally could never have imagined having before the handfasting season began, but now she can hardly face the thought of leaving her. “Of course I believe you. I am glad to see you before we go, there is much I would say but I fear there is no time to say it in,” Tally frets, trying to order her thoughts to say only the most important pieces while Alder and Nicte argue hushedly a few steps away. 

 

Wordlessly, Penelope throws her arms around Tally, and they embrace tightly as sisters about to be separated by a wedding might do. It is a goodbye, and a thank you, and a promise to remember all in one, and Tally clutches tight as she can. “You, Penelope, are exactly as you are supposed to be; good, and kind, and powerful beyond anything your father could ever aspire to,” she whispers fiercely into the embrace, eyes going misty with tears, “No matter what he may say to you about your gifts, know that you are never alone because of those gifts. You are one of us, Pen. He cannot take that away from you.”

 

“But he is taking you away,” Penelope replies, her voice cracking with emotion, “and childish though it may be, I do not want you to go. I know you must, I only wish it were otherwise for I am very much dreading my solitude.” She has never seemed younger to Tally than she does curled into her here on the lawn.

 

Tally wishes things were otherwise too, but they are not. Blanton Silver is a dangerous man, and she is under no illusions that if they give him the opportunity to, he will destroy them both. Were Penelope anything other than his daughter, she does not doubt that the girl would be long dead. As it is, Blanton has successfully isolated Penny from the world, and in doing so kept her away from anyone in it that might contradict his hateful rhetoric. “I will not forget you. No matter where I am, I will think of you often - write to my sisters in Salem, explain to them what has happened and about our kinship, and I am sure they will welcome you with open arms. You need not be alone in that way again.” 

 

If Penelope writes to her sisters at least they will have some notion of what has become of her, and know that she has not been spirited away by the fairies, but by the love of her life. In time, perhaps they will be as sisters to Penelope too. She would say as much, only the militia witches’ arguing has risen above a whisper, and Tally can only listen.

 

“We cannot just abandon her here!” Nicte’s voice rises in sharp disbelief and Tally finds herself in disbelief of her own when Sarah slaps a hand over her mouth, hissing her annoyance at the dumbfounded sergeant. 

“If we take her we will be the criminals Silver is convincing the city we are - her relation to him protects her for now, but if he perceives there to be any more witch in Penelope than that which he can suppress, that protection may fail,” Sarah exclaims at a whisper, eyes blazing, “Associating with me now will be tantamount to putting a bounty on Miss Silver’s head as well as our own. Do you think he would ever stop hunting us if we took her? I take no joy in the decision, Nicte, but  I cannot risk all of our lives.” 

 

It is like a pit of lead in Tally’s stomach, hearing the blunt assessment Sarah has had to make of their situation - she can only imagine what a now ghostly pale Penelope must feel. “Perhaps this is not the place to be having this conversat—” Tally interjects fruitlessly, half sure they will not be able to hear anything over the sound of their own back and forth. 

 

Nicte’s furrowed brow deepens further. “If he hates what she is, why would he care what happens to her? Would it not be a boon to have her off his hands?” She asks without intention to hurt, but still it does not change the way that Penelope recoils into herself as if she has been struck.

Sarah shrugs over-exaggeratedly, scoffing at Nicte’s query. “Reputation, inheritance, I am not privy to the machinations of a bigot’s brain, Batan—” When she notices Penelope wince, Tally has had quite enough.

“She is a person, and standing right here you know, while you discuss her life so intimately,” Tally scolds, and the older women are silenced, the very picture of chagrin. Naturally it is Sarah who pays the most heed to her complaint, sketching a quick bow to Penelope.

“Our apologies, Miss Silver,” she sighs, and there is a world weariness to it that Tally knows well. “If there was any way that we could take you from your father safely, I would do it in a heartbeat.”

 

This surprises the entire party. “You would?” Pen asks the question that burns in each of their minds. Tally does not know why she is so taken aback by it; this is General Sarah Alder, champion of the downtrodden. She has gone to war over and over to protect those who cannot protect themselves, why would her carefully guarded bleeding heart not be drawn to a situation like this?

 

“Of course - you are a bright young witch, and Tally is fond of you which tells me all that I should know about the nature of your character,” Sarah says it all so matter of factly, but Tally knows how much it will matter for Penny to hear this, having experienced the tender light of Sarah’s praise herself. “But above that, for all your years you are still a child, and children should be protected, nourished, and cherished by their parents - not crushed by them,” Sarah is fierce in her delivery, as if daring any of them to disagree with her, or perhaps to make fun of her softness. 

 

It seems obvious now, but it is something of a revelation to Tally that Sarah, who cleaved a man in twain not long ago, loves children. How guarded her heart must have had to be to keep all of the love she has for people hidden away inside of it for so many years. Tally aches at the many cruelties that life has wrought to warrant such guarding. 

“Your father’s treatment of you disgusts me. Which is why I am not leaving you here alone,” Sarah concludes succinctly. 

 

Tally and Nicte share a similarly confused glance. Their flight had been spur of the moment - what plans could Sarah have implemented that neither would be aware of? “You’re not?” Tally asks, raising her brow when the question elicits a grin from her fiancé.

“No I am not. I am leaving her here with Nicte.”

 

To her credit Nicte does not argue the point, only laughs at the brazenness of her one time comrade in arms. “Oh you are, are you? Could we not simply off Blanton and be done with this?”

It is quite something to find herself agreeing with a plan that involves a murder of convenience, and yet, Tally cannot deny that it is a tempting option given the circumstances. 

 

“And cause untold trouble for the only other man, namely Mr Craven, seen in the company of two men who disappear today? Saying nothing of the fact that right now Silver is spitting our names to anyone who might listen - We might as well put the scold’s bridles on ourselves, save the mob some trouble,” Alder retorts dryly. Clearly the militia were right to pick Sarah out as a master tactician, but Tally is an observer through and through. She can see the coil of Sarah’s body pulled taut, waiting to spring, the near imperceptible movement of her boots, and her eyes flicking from their party to the gate: they should be long gone by now. 

 

“That’s all well and good, but you do know you cannot actually make decisions about my life anymore? What if I refuse to stay?” Her eyes glittering with the challenge, Nicte waits for the volley to be returned by Sarah, as is their custom, only to have the routine upset by Tally.

 

“No one can force you to stay, Nicte, I will simply implore you to consider it so as to ensure the safety and well-being of a dear friend,” Tally smiles softly at the sergeant, acknowledging the kinship they have in their affection for Sarah Alder, “I promise I will do the same.”

 

“Oh you are good Red, I will give you that. Those doe eyes will be the bane of Sarah’s existence,” There is a grudging respect in her tone, and she sighs deeply. “Fine. We will stay, but the very second that the threat has passed I expect you both to return. And do inform me of where you are so I might give you the joyous news of his passing as soon as I can - I don’t care if you have a house, a business, and a hundred children; you will be back.” 

Tally nods fervently, squeezing first Penny’s hand and then Nicte’s. “I swear it. If there is a time when we are safely able to return, then return we shall.” Goddess, does she hope there will be a time when she can see her sisters again. 

 

“We must go now if we are to have any hope of getting away without incident,” Sarah murmurs, her hand on Tally’s back both a comfort and an emphasis of her point. 

“We will see each other far sooner than we think, Goddess willing,” Tally says with a gently wavering smile for the witches, the friends, she must leave behind. It was, perhaps, easier to go without acknowledging the going. Penelope cannot speak without her voice cracking, and so throws herself into Tally’s arms for the second time for a most welcome embrace. If a few tears are shed, then no one else can justly comment on it.

 

“You will let me know that you have left the city safely at least, in the usual fashion?” Nicte asks nonchalantly, stepping into Sarah’s space and holding out her hand. Sarah’s face softens and she huffs a laugh before taking hold of Nicte’s elbow and bowing her head.

“I will, old friend. Take care,” she replies, and Nicte squeezes her arm in return.

“The girl will be fine, I’ll make sure of that.”

Sarah raises her head to meet Nicte’s gaze, and smiles. “I have no doubt. Take care of yourself, too.”

They release each other, and Nicte sniffs, shooing them off. “Go, quickly, before I change my mind.”

 

They do not wait to be told a second time, and rush to the gate, and Bill. Sarah helps Tally mount the saddle, untying as quickly as she can before she leaps astride Bill at Tally’s back. Tally quite suddenly does not know what to do with herself, as Sarah reaches around her to take hold of the reins, and they are pressed together totally. They may be leaving behind all they have known, and saying goodbye to dear friends to be invisible in some far off town, but there is something thrilling about it too, this adventure, this life that they are going to create together. Tally caresses the ring in her pocket, and imagines what it will be like to call Sarah Alder her wife as they race out of her father’s estate, and she tries not to look back. 

 


 

Sarah guides Bill along as many back alleys and side streets as she can as they make their way through Boston proper, conscious of every step they are putting between themselves and Silver. It has already been a long night and there is to be far more of it to get through, so it is rather lucky that it is Tally that will be on this journey with her as there is nothing like good company to alleviate the tension of a tactical retreat.

 

“What did Nicte mean by the usual fashion? How often have you had to signal that you have made it out of some terrible situation alive for there to be an accepted parlance?” Tally asks the question almost directly into her ear, the heat of her breath so close enough to send sparks through Sarah. 

“In truth? Many times - though most when I was younger and more reckless with my life. We developed the signal mostly to say that I had made it across no man’s land or had successfully infiltrated enemy camp, things of that nature.” There is a certain macabre nostalgia to it Sarah can admit, but such is the reality of her life on the front. She feels Tally shiver bodily against her and tightens her hold around her waist, supporting and questioning both, taking the reins in one hand. 

 

Tally laughs shakily. “I suppose we both have been rather reckless with our lives as of late, but I do hope this will be the last time your signal is required.”

Sarah has spent so many years throwing herself into every skirmish, fighting with a blind sort of rage that, while devastatingly effective, was almost an invitation for death to trifle with her. It is difficult to be both a highly disciplined combatant and also careless about your own personal safety, but Sarah trod that line with great skill. She had, until very recently, little to live for. 

“Yes, I hope so too,” she admits, and it is true. She can feel the kernel of hope that she had allowed to blossom into a kiss in the library of Fort Salem, that had been summarily crushed by the arrival of the Camarilla, return to her heart. Tally accepting her hand is proof that there can be a life beyond the misery of her history. They will have a life, after all of this, and maybe someday they can return to Salem freely. Sarah’s more cynical nature would have her rejecting that notion as about as likely to occur as snow in August, but she fell in love, so perhaps anything is possible.

 

The stables where Tally’s horse has been stabled lies just at the city limits, and Bill makes it in good time. Fetching Roheryn, while it certainly takes time from them now, will only be a boon in the long term - asking Bill to carry two women at pace for long periods is simply going to force them to stop and slow far sooner than Sarah would like. That she can feel the delight in the rise of her cheeks when Tally realises where they are headed and why is a gratifying side effect.

 “I thought we would not have time to get her!” She exclaims as Sarah slows Bill to a stop at the gate. 

 

“We might not,” Sarah laughs, helping Tally to slide off Bill without any fuss, “but two horses are exponentially better than one.”

 

“That is true, I have long believed it,” Tally beams up at her, and Sarah cannot fathom how chance a meeting as theirs could be so transformative as it has been to her very soul. 

“I will be out here, but should you need me for any reason…” She says to Tally’s happily retreating back, the bounce in her step returning at the prospect of reunion after so many partings. Tally merely hums a reply, and disappears into the stables. 

 

The city is at their backs, or so close to being so that something tight that had held Sarah’s chest loosens; they are not out of the woods entirely, but the most dangerous journey is almost complete. Much as it had been when she first arrived to Boston, the city bustles even in the middle of the night with dockhands and late night revellers. Somewhere in the midst of it all, Silver is spreading poisonous half truths about her and Buttonwood, and witchery as a practice. Nicte awaits her signal, and will wait only as long as she has determined it should take to make it through the city and out the other side before taking drastic measures; thusly, Sarah begins to sing. 

 

Tally returns on horseback, pleased with her lot, in the middle of the Seed. It is not a particularly complicated melody, and is as familiar to Sarah as any she has ever sung, one of the first she had learned as a child. Hannah’s skill had been as a healer; their mother had been so pleased that she took after her own late mother, but Sarah’s aptitude was and has always been for weather. She still recalls the elation and pride she had felt when she managed to bring her first rainfall to bear. The rain she calls on tonight rolls in fast the way all summer storms tend to, darkening the night considerably with heavy clouds that spill over into glorious rain. It is a welcome sight for the surrounding vegetation, though likely not so welcome for the revellers. Nicte will hear the gentle falling, see the window panes running with evidence of their escape, and be satisfied, but Sarah does not disperse the clouds. She will let them rain themselves out, a long farewell. 

 

“Shall we?” Tally asks softly, likely trying to preserve the solemnity of the moment. Sarah clears her throat gruffly and nods, turning away from the borderline between Boston and their route she has wrought through her work. Her breath catches in her lungs however, when she sees Tally astride her horse, her skirts rucked up but looking as elegant and regal as any Lady could hope to, like she was made to be there. 

 

“I await your command,” Sarah grins rakishly, delighting in the snort it elicits from Tally, who rolls her eyes fondly and leads the way out of the gate and into the fields and forests that will bring them to Lowell and then onwards wherever their desires take them. It has been a rare stroke of good luck - or perhaps Silver’s incompetence - that they have not encountered any interference thus far, but she remains vigilant. They cannot use the cover of the forests until dawn - there is no cantering through trees, and it is far too dark to safely navigate through anyway - which is a source of vexation for Sarah. They must be exposed far more than she would like for far longer than she would prefer, but there is little to be done about that. 

 

Her vigilance is the only reason she hears the sound from such a distance. “Tally?” Sarah frowns, trying to isolate the noise between the thud of hooves and her own breathing, “Do my ears deceive me?”

 

“I certainly hear something, though I cannot be certain precisely what until it comes a touch closer, there are limits to what my gift can accomplish,” Tally calls back to her, focus clearly shifting. It is a testament to the bond between steed and rider that when Tally closes her eyes, straining to hear, Roheryn does not falter. “It is a voice… they are calling out… yaya?” 

 

Sarah cannot say what it is that gives her pause about that, only that her senses are suddenly almost positive they are in no danger. “To trot I think, whoever it is does not mean to harm us - if they did I do not think they would be calling quite so loudly.” Sarah pulls the reins only slightly and Bill responds, slowing to a sedate pace so she might twist in her saddle to get a better view of their pursuer. Tally slows at her side, still straining to hear.

 

“Yaya way?” Tally says bemusedly, “Surely that cannot be it. Yaya way…”

 

Sarah can just about make out a shape in the distance, too large to be just a horse but not quite a carriage either. It crashes through the underbrush at pace, and the coachman must be a madman to be moving so fast with such low visibility. Sarah goes to say as much when Tally gasps, dark eyes bursting open as something slots together in her mind.

 

“Stop, Sarah, we must stop at once!” She exclaims, “He is saying Talia, wait! It is my father, the coachman is my father!” 

 

That is something of a genuine surprise to Sarah - after Mr Craven had run off earlier, she had all but assumed they simply would not see him again, and it occurs to her now, the way these things tend to occur - by which one can infer only in the last fleeting moments before they become irreparable - that there is a strong possibility the man will think she is running off with his daughter. Which she is, but not in the way that it might appear to an outsider. Not that she holds any hope that Mr Craven will care about the distinction when it comes to the reputation of his daughter. 

 

Shortly, the cart which Mr Craven helms is upon them, and Sarah watches in mute fascination as the cart takes to the air for a brief moment as he drives it over the rise. “What in the goddess’s name is happening,” she mutters to Tally when the cart finally slows to a stop, and Mr Craven leaps from the bench, panting heavily. 

 

Gingerly, Tally steps towards him, unsure of her welcome. “Father, I—”

William Craven raises a hand to stop her speech, still struggling to catch his breath, he turns to Sarah. 

 

“You set a punishing pace, General, I will say that much. I very nearly thought we would not catch you,” he whistles, dripping wet with fresh rain and exertion, mopping his face with a kerchief. Sarah is not quite sure of her footing in this conversation yet - his opening salvo appears friendly enough, but she has been caught with his unwed daughter disappearing off into the night.

 

“That was the general idea, yes,” Tally interjects, and if he did not believe she was going off to tarnish their good name before… 

Recovering some, William shakes his head. “I am only glad to have found you sooner than later. I did not get reunited with you, my girl, only to be parted again without so much as a farewell. I have sorted the whole sorry business with Blanton out.”

 

Sarah cannot quite believe what she is hearing. “I beg your pardon?”

 

“There are conditions, naturally, to his silence - though I fear some of his rambling received more attention than I would have liked,” William explains, “apparently you have bewitched my Talia and are tarnishing her mind and good moral standing, and though it is baseless, a rumour of that ilk will spread.” 

 

Sarah could happily strangle Blanton Silver for ruining perhaps forever the reputation of one of the most wonderful women she has ever met. 

 

“Conditions? I can only imagine they are dearly bought, Mr Craven, and I must apologize for my part in forcing you into such a position,” Sarah grimaces at the very thought of what a man like Silver would demand in order to keep his silence. 

 

“You protected my daughter, General Alder, and I made a vow to repay that debt. There were several conditions to which I would not agree, but the most pertinent few are as follows: firstly, that neither of you will ever again return to Boston,” Tally makes to interrupt, her upset at this rule evident by the welling of tears in her eyes, but William only places a hand on her shoulder, offering a gentle squeeze before he continues. “Secondly, that any future business dealings with the Buttonwood family will be handled solely by me, and thirdly, perhaps most importantly,” William says, gravely serious, “is that he has decided that young Miss Penelope is to become your ward, General.”

 

Sarah blinks, trying desperately to process what has been said but the rush of blood in her ears is too loud, and the thump of her heart in her chest feels like it might crack her ribs momentarily. “My what?” She manages to gasp out through her fluster. 

 

Now William cracks a smile, mouth curling beneath his moustache. “Your Ward, General. It seems he could no longer bear to have someone of the blood in his house, after all, who is to say what Miss Penelope might be capable of if you can slice a man in two with only your voice?” With that, he raps his knuckles against the cart, and Sarah is dumbfounded as two familiar faces emerge from within. 

“You did not think you would be ridding yourselves of us quite so easily, did you?” Nicte grins, satisfied at a plan well executed. 

“Pen!” Tally exclaims, running to greet her friend warmly. 

 

In her distraction, Sarah rounds on her father. “I know there are costs to this show of leniency beyond what you have outlined here,” she says frankly, staring Mr Craven down. There are always costs beyond what one would hope for in negotiations of this nature. 

 

He sighs, eyes glancing over to the two younger of their party, before lowering his voice to answer. “A sum of money may have changed hands, but nothing that cannot be recuperated in time. I may also have downplayed the damage that my daughter’s standing has suffered this night. He all but accused her of being sullied - I was in part glad to agree that she would not return here to face such judgments.” 

 

“You must allow me to repay you - your bargaining will facilitate my return to my estate at Fort Salem, there will be no sum I cannot return to you,” Sarah presses, knowing as she does that whatever sum it was would be worth it tenfold if it means Tally may return to her sisters, and that they may both return to Fort Salem. 

 

“Consider it as payment of my own debt to you, General. Though I must ask you now for a much greater favour,” he hedges, suddenly awkward, “My daughter.”

“Yes?”

He sighs. “I cannot keep her here, but in the same manner I cannot allow her to return to her mother’s house any more than I could allow Penelope to return to Blanton. Before you return to your home, would you see her settled for me? I do not know how quickly word of her fallen status will travel, but hopefully some gentleman will—” 

I am a gentleman, Mr Craven,” Sarah cuts across him fiercely, unwilling to even for a second allow him to harbour the notion that some other should take Tally’s hand. “I am a gentleman. Allow me to marry your daughter.” Sarah is forced to confront the possibility that he may refuse her permission as she asks it.

“You wish to save her reputation?” He queries, arching one red brow. 

“I wish to make her my wife,” Sarah explains, her gaze alighting on the woman who has captivated her from their first meeting, and confounded her ever since with the constancy of her love and friendship. Her heart given form.

 

William softens immediately on catching the longing in that look. “I was so hoping you might say that. Well then, General Alder, you have my wholehearted consent, if she would have you I certainly approve of the union.” 

It is a relief that they will not have to go against her father’s wishes, though Sarah is almost certain they would wed anyway - Tally is in many ways more headstrong than Sarah herself. Still, it is pleasing to have an official admission of approval. 

“Thank you, Mr Craven. I know your blessing will mean a great deal to Tally.”

His eyes narrow, looking at her with that familiar insight she has seen on Tally’s visage many times, and sighs.

“You have already proposed and been accepted, haven’t you?”

 

Sarah cannot deny it, though she must defend her reasoning. “I did not want to run off with her like some scoundrel of a man! I respect her too well to do such a thing - Lowell was our heading.”

“A Gretna Green! You considered this thoroughly then, it is not a passing fancy for you?” William claps his hands together, eyes lighting up with satisfaction.

 

For a moment, Tally looks up from the huddle their trio have formed in the cart bed to look askance at Sarah. Sarah smiles sedately, and shakes her head; they will discuss it later. 

“Definitely not. Anyone would be fortunate to have the affection of your daughter, and in that regard I am perhaps the king of good fortune. I do not intend to waste the gift I have been given.” Not after it has been so hard won between them.

 

“Good. Then might I make a suggestion?” He asks lightly, though Sarah detects that there is a gravity to what he wishes to say that is betrayed by the set of his shoulders.

“Of course.”

“Neither one of us wishes for her to return to May’s clutches. You are of course free to do as you wish, but if she were already married, who could say a word about her presence in your Fort Salem?” 

 

He is not wrong - there would be many benefits to being swiftly wed, not least of which would be the inability for May Craven to get anywhere near to Tally again, yet Sarah hesitates. She would marry Tally right now, and happily so, but there is the fact that Sarah knows her heart to contend with, and knows how she would want to see her sisters attending, to profess their love in front of all Salem. It would be far more convenient, certainly, to go to Lowell and be wed on the morrow, but that should not factor into the decision at all.

 

“I will not be parted from her again, but I… if we need not run for our very lives, I would give her the wedding she deserves,” she says softly, envisioning just briefly what such an affair might entail. Tally in gown and veil, a bouquet of Sarah’s own making in her hands, a vision in white. 

 

William nods sagely, pleased at such a response, but he chuckles at her reverie. “Who is to stop you from doing both, General? Sign the papers in Lowell, and host the ceremony in Salem, or elsewhere if that would best please you,” he posits, and that is a novel idea. “I cannot deny that I do desire to be the one to give her away, but all of that can still be done when the deed has been signed. Do as you see fit, General, I only ask that you ensure her safety and happiness with the same fervour I saw tonight.”

That notion stops Sarah in her tracks: Who is to stop them from doing exactly as they please? Nobility? Tradition? They have already left tradition in the wind a million times over. 

 

“My heart?” Sarah calls to her fiancé, and is rewarded with a most beatific smile.

“Yes?” 

“Would you still like to marry me in the morning? We have all the time in the world to decide otherwise, we could wait and throw an extravagant affair if you would like,” she offers with a smile of her own that, if Nicte’s mild disgust and Penelope’s tittering is anything to go by, must appear dreadfully sappy. It is rather fortunate that Tally seems to be pleased by the suggestion. 

“I would be your wife this instant were it possible Sarah Alder,” Tally asserts, dark eyes so full of warmth and affection it is difficult for Sarah to meet them, “if you would still like to marry me in the morning, then I would still like to marry you, extravagance be damned.”

The temptation that Sarah feels, the burning desire to reach for Tally and draw her in close, is such that she must occupy her hands expeditiously with Bill’s reins. “Well then,” she coughs, “we have our heading.”

 

She turns to Penelope with a much gentler composure; she has resolved already to try and give her ward the kindly childhood that her own parents provided, regardless of her proximity to her majority. It is also an opportunity for Tally to speak privately with her father. “You will accompany us? Or perhaps you might stay and gather your things to bring with us to Salem?” 

“I am to decide?” Penelope squeaks, clearly unused to having such influence over her own life. Sarah nods encouragingly. “Right, well, then I suppose I will…stay? And pack my valise for Salem, of course.” 

“A fine choice, Miss Penelope. Ni—” 

“I am going to volunteer my services, Sarah,” Nicte groans, rolling her eyes “you need not attempt to tell me what I am to do with my time for a second instance this night; you are my General no longer.” 

“I had intended to ask you to send a missive to Fort Salem informing Anacostia Quartermaine of Penelope’s imminent arrival to the Fort, as well as of Tally’s, to give her some forewarning so she and the biddies might prepare, but I am glad that you will be so generous with your time as to assist Miss Penelope also,” Sarah grins like butter would not melt when Nicte flashes a rude gesture, and it is worth the nudge she receives as a result to get one over on the sergeant. 

 

“Sarah,” Tally says lightly, stepping out of her father’s confidence with misty eyes but surety in her gait, “if we do not go shortly I fear we never will.” 

 

“Then let us go that we will return all the sooner - overmorrow on the very edge of the city, that is where we shall collect young Miss Penelope to journey back to Salem,” Sarah instructs the trio, mounting her horse once more, “and thank you, all of you, for everything you have done for myself and Tally both. I am honoured that you would trust me, and know that I do not take it lightly.” That William would trust her with his daughter, that Penelope would trust her with herself, that Nicte would trust her to know her own heart - it means a great deal to Sarah, far beyond what she could ever express. She failed to protect one family, but she was a child then, overwhelmed by circumstances beyond her control. She knows better now, and so too should the Camarilla and any others that would seek to harm the people she cares for; she will not fail again. 

 

Clambering back onto the coachman’s bench, William gazes down upon her and it is as if he can see into her soul. “Be worthy of our trust, General, and there will be no happier persons on this coast,” He says gently, “except perhaps my daughter, but who could begrudge her that?” 

Sarah chuckles quietly at that - who could begrudge Tally anything? - and watches the two, saying nothing, but seemingly understanding a great deal in the silence. William holds a fist over his heart and Tally mirrors the move before he lashes the reins and speeds off, back towards the city and the still pouring rain. 

 

Dawn approaches, and Sarah and Tally begin their journey anew, riding into the rising sun with hearts far lighter than they had been when they first set out, the road, and their future, stretching out ahead of them. By this time tomorrow they will be married, Sarah muses as they ride, and then, a realisation. 

For the first time since Sarah herself was born, there will be a new branch added to, rather than torn from, the Alder family tree, and a child in Fort Salem. By this time tomorrow, they will be Lord Sarah and Lady Talia Alder, bound for life by sacred vows and above that by love that has shaped them both and will continue to for the rest of their lives. And for the first time in near two decades, Sarah Alder cannot wait for tomorrow to come.