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rings and promises

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There always must be three. She’s not surprised, the way a war seems to happen every generation, it is just sensible, and it is a bit worrying when there’s just two of them, but she is old enough to know that twins often mean complications. She’s nine and worries about the shadows looming on the horizon, worries that just the two of them will not be enough.

Then there is three and she does not complain when the instructors are merciless, pushing them harder and harder, until she can barely breathe.

There is always three and she can’t help the protective instinct raising her hackles as soon as their little sister joins them. She’s fragile and sweet and there is just a slight possibility she let their father slip her out into the city a few times when nobody was watching. Out of the three of them, it is clear who is his favourite, and even his brothers roll their eyes at the ridiculous things he brings for her. It’s not that he does not love them - he does, but neither of them is sweet and five and asks for his ring, softening the r sound in a most adorable ways.

Then she turns nine and the heavy clouds of war roll over the city once more.

There always must be three and when there is two, she feels the loss of her twin like an open wound. She becomes the captain of the guard when auntie dies in less than a month and she does not complain but the grief festers in her heart, so she shuts it off. Her mother does not speak, only given an order after an order, an unending stream of commands that will not save her sister, but just might save the city. The old king wears grief like a familiar cloak, and leads them forward. There are spies, and there are dragons, and there is the little one, and with the world going insane, she refuses to give this, give her, up.

Their father leaves the city with the dragon, promising they will be back soon, and that he will bring the little one any ring she’ll want, and laughs at her wonder.

It is not going well. Fights in the city never do.

It is nearly a year after the contract with the dragons, and at this point they do not expect a miracle any more. The city is bleeding out. They are not coming back, she knows, and she does not mean to snap at the little one, but she is tired, and hurt, and she does not know what to do. After her brother frees the wind, their mother sleeps even less, and even Vina cannot help her much now. They should’ve left months ago, but they still had hope, and she cannot stand that now she just took what was left of it with her sisters’ innocence.

The roar of ‘YOU WERE WRONG ’ makes her look back from the patrol inspection, and her heart skips a beat when she sees the shapes on the horizon, and she’s almost hopeful when their father transforms mid-landing. He is pale and gaunt, but there, and she feels like crying. He pulls Vira to himself in a hug and mouths ‘I am sorry’ looking at his older daughter, before shrouding them in darkness.

Vira wakes up in a city of ruins, but unconquered, in her own bed in the castle.

There is a handful rings on the bed.

The other two are empty.