She goes down into town about twice a month, to sell animal pelts and to buy the things that they can’t grow or forage by themselves. It’s about a forty-minute walk, and the late summer has been fair, so she takes her time, watching light dappling the trunks of trees and running over the lists in her head: Imported fruits, cloth and thread for patching and darning clothes.
She passes by the florists and the prostitutes and the fortune tellers.
Ragnus is strange now, as if made wild by prison and heartbreak, but so too is she strange and so she hardly minds it. The house where they live is tumbledown and overgrown in places, large patches of roof gone, but animals stay away and so it’s hardly a problem, even during the rain.
She teaches him to shoot and to play the old age-bleached piano in the corner that wanders weekly out of tune. He teaches her how to farm potatoes, and how to deep-throat his heavy cock without choking.
He does all the hunting because she can barely stand to shoot animals anymore. The first time that he cooked a side of deer, she pushed herself to eat a little because his hands had made the meal, and paid for it with nausea and vomiting all night. She can’t kill without malice, and can’t eat meat because it reminds her too powerfully of day-old corpses. She waited, at first, for him to remark about how funny it is that she can put an arrow through a man’s eye unflinchingly and can’t bring herself to swallow rabbit stew. But the jokes never came, and she thought that she was right to fall in love with this man.
She passes a girl in familiar round glasses in the town one day, carrying a tall pint of something that looks like ale but upon further inspection is probably cider.
Don’t I know you, she says.
Probably! says the girl. Don’t look at me so suspiciously. You will break my innocent little heart.
Your heart is about as innocent as my hair is blonde, she says. The girl laughs at this.
Well, either way I’m not here to start trouble, says the girl. I have to gather up my scrolls! I have to find new scrolls, and do new research! And I need to pay that angel back, because—rude!! Anyway, the weather is nice. If this world is going to end or change, it will be during another winter.
This is a very strange conversation, she says.
It is! says the girl. But we’ve got the strangeness in us, so that’s hardly a surprise. Tell Ragnus hello from me. I am sure we’ll meet again someday.
They spend approximately a third of their time fucking and she couldn’t be happier. He’s thinner, overall, than the marble statues in the capital’s art museum with muscles that are wiry and corded instead of round, but his cock is thick and beautiful and when he’s inside her she feels him through the soles of her feet and her nipples and her fingertips. If it’s shallow of her to fixate on his looks and the skill of his sex, she doesn’t care: She would rather continue to be glad that he is pleasant to look at and pleasanter to fuck.
It’s significant that it’s him, but it is also a joy to be so close to another human being, and for that closeness to feel so good for them both. The jail is a shadow in his eyes and they sleep with arms and legs wrapped around each other. She wakes in the middle of the night when he goes hard inside her.
He won’t fuck her roughly even when she wants it to be violent, or almost never. When he holds her down with all his weight atop her and opens her up with his cock it’s relentless, deliberate, it feels like it lasts for hours, like she’ll go crazy.
When I’m in you I can forget, he says.
She understands what he means, but she wants the waking up of it too, to forget and then to remember again, with every part of her body.
They never use protection. She wouldn’t want to even if they could afford it. He always comes inside her, heavy, and she feels it all, the rush of fluid and the pulses in his cock. It makes her own orgasms more vibrant, and she dreams about him filling her, fucking her throat and her pussy and her ass until she’s limp and wrecked and wholly alive. The mental picture of her belly round and heavy with his child is vague and excites her sexually, and she thinks that if it comes to that they can handle the consequences as she experiences them.
When she takes him flat on the table, she holds him still and whips her hips until his voice cracks, a falsetto ululation in the back of his throat, wordless.
They are learning to be human again, first, before they learn to be civilized and responsible.
If Veronica has particular magical powers like Gungnir, it doesn’t reveal them. The lance itself sits propped in a corner while they ignore it in favor of food and sex and recounting the news in town.
So far the visible changes in Alyssa’s Gargandia have to do with the country’s peace. There have been laws altered—apparently the condition of the empire near the mountains is tense, with the dissolution of the ghettoes—but here, in this town, life has not changed for the better or for the worse.
Past the high peak and plateau of summer, the weather is temperate again, but there is a whisper that brings a kind of wakening into her blood, like the first far-off breath of a cold snap. Winter is on the horizon. If this world is going to end or change, it will be during another winter. She remembers those words. Her body is tensing on its own, whether she wills it or not.
There is no outward change in Ragnus, but she is not sure whether she simply cannot see it. He is more honest with his emotions when the world is only the two of them, but he still does not like to be demonstrative. Only he cuts his hair, so that again it’s of a length where he can hide it under his clothes when he’s tied it back.
She is down in the square carrying a sack of potatoes when she sees the woman: Familiar, as alien as ever in light and flowing clothes that never seem to catch the dirt. Her eyes are bland and her gaze is opaque.
There is no greeting passed between them. The woman opens her mouth and says, Take me to the prince, for we have much to discuss. And that is that, no room for argument. She sells the potatoes at the general store and walks the wooded path with the harbinger of winter on her heels.