Sorraru’s eyes opened as the sounds of Lan sharpening his knife roused her from her slumber. Her eyes blurred for a moment before coming into focus on his dark, brooding figure in the light of their little shelter’s opening.
‘Lan,’ She enquired, her voice raspy. ‘What are you doing?’
‘You’re dying, Sora,’ He replied simply. ‘I won’t sit here and watch it happen any longer.’
‘Well,’ Sorraru’s body was racked with horrible coughs, and she saw Lan flinch at the sound of her coarse throat. ‘What are you going to do?’
He turned to face her, then, his expression one of a man in intense pain. ‘What I have to do. Whatever it takes. I won’t allow you to waste away like this. You need a healer.’
‘The healers are all back home, Lan.’
‘I know that.’
Sorraru’s tired brain suddenly caught on to what he was saying. She was perplexed; they couldn’t leave, no one just left. Not without the death of the other. That was how it worked, how it had always worked. Sorraru thought back to her first moments in this forsaken place, of accepting her death the moment she understood where she was. Here, in this arena, two went in and only one came out. She remembered the first time she and Lan had crossed paths here. In the moments before he had been about to end her life, she had been afraid. But now, she was still afraid to die, but Lan was afraid, too. How much things had changed. Now he was proposing what seemed an impossible feat in order to save her from death.
‘We can’t leave, Lan.’ She finally said.
Lan returned to sharpening his hand-crafted knife with a rock. ‘There must be a way. We can’t stay here any longer. You’ll die.’
‘And when I do,’ Sorraru saw Lan flinch once more at her perhaps callous statement that her death was now inevitable. ‘You’ll be free.’
‘I told you before,’ Lan’s voice was harsh, then. ‘I’m not leaving this place without you. I’m getting you home, no matter what it takes.’
‘What are you going to do?’ Sorraru repeated.
Lan stopped sharpening his knife, his shoulders drooped, and Sorraru knew he had no plan. It was so unlike him to run into a potentially fatal situation without a plan. It was the only time Sorraru had ever seen him so desperate.
‘I’m going to find him,’ Lan finally said. ‘Find him and make him release us. Or kill him if he will not.’
‘We don’t know where he is, we don’t know who he is. Lan, we don’t even know if he even is a ‘he’, or even if he’s human!’
Sorraru coughed violently again, and this time Lan rushed to her side to offer her his warmth. He held her icy hands in his as she rested her head on his chest.
‘No,’ He said. ‘We don’t know any of those things. There are only two things I know: I love you, and I’m getting you home.’
I love you. Three words. Three words Lan had never said to Sorraru before that moment, and it did not escape her notice. Three words that filled her with so much emotion, that made her want to cry, kiss him and slap him all at once. And yet, they awoke a fire in her she had not felt since the dreadful sickness had taken hold.
‘Wherever you’re going... I’m coming with you.’
‘No, you’re not,’ Lan replied quickly. ‘You can’t walk.’
‘I can try. You know what he’ll do the moment you leave me.’ Sorraru saw Lan’s brows furrow and knew she was right. ‘I won’t even be able to defend myself against whatever monsters he’ll send.’
Lan heaved a frustrated sigh. He knew she was right, the only way he could protect her was if she was with him. In her condition, she wouldn’t be able to defend herself alone against a mouse, or even a strong wind, let alone thorars or worse.
‘I don’t know that I’ll be able to protect myself if I’m worried about protecting you.’ Lan admitted.
‘Alright, so give me the bow. I’m sure I’ll still be able to shoot straight.’
‘That’s not a good idea, Sora.’
‘What other choice do we have?’
She had him again. Sorraru thought she could at least still fight if she had to. She had been saving her strength for days, if this was to be their final move, she could muster every ounce of strength she had left to fight. Lan sighed again in surrender. What other choice did they have? If he left her, she would die. If he took her with him, they may both die, but at least they would be together.
Lan looked down into Sorraru’s deep green eyes, and what he saw there was everything that had made him love her: her strength, her determination and her compassion. He wondered how this had happened to them, how they had come to be here, why they were chosen, and how things had become what they were. It seemed like yesterday that he was a lonely hunter in the snows of the North, now he was with her, this beautiful creature, this strong, caring farmer’s daughter from the West. Out there, in the real world, he had no one and nothing to return to. Everything he had now was right here, in his arms. Sorraru had a father and tribe that needed her. If it was the last thing he would ever do, he would not let her die here.
‘Okay,’ He finally said. ‘Let’s go.’
Sorraru nodded. Now was as good a time as any. They gathered their weapons - the knife, the bow - and their backpack with what little supplies they had left, and prepared to leave the little shelter that had served as their home for months now for what would likely be the last time. Lan handed the bow and quiver of arrows to Sorraru and she slung the quiver over her body, grasping the bow surely in her frail hands. He kept the knife for himself, sliding it into his belt and helped Sorraru up and out into the open. He supported her arm around his shoulders with his arm around her back, grasping her side as though letting go would mean losing her, and they started out into the wild.
‘I must admit,’ Sorraru said. ‘I have selfish reasons for wanting to come.’
‘And what would those be?’ Lan enquired, grateful she was distracting him with talk.
‘If we can do this, I want us to do it together. I want us both to leave here together. I want to be with you, out there, in the real world. I want to show you where I come from, and introduce you to my father. I want us to marry someday, Lan.’ Sorraru’s words were hopeful, despite the direness of their situation.
‘Let’s get through this first, then we’ll go to your home, I’ll meet your father, and I’ll marry you, Sora, I promise I will. You’ll wear a beautiful dress of white lace the women of your tribe will make for you, and Argas flowers in your hair.’
‘You’ll wear something other than your hunting leathers.’
Lan laughed. ‘Keep dreaming, Sora, we’ll get through this.’
This talk comforted Sorraru in a way she thought Lan could never know. For a moment, she was transported away as they trudged with difficulty through the overgrown forest. She imagined the dress Lan spoke of, the one of white lace. It was true that it was traditional for the women of a tribe to make the dress for the bride, and she would without a doubt wear Argas flowers in her hair. Argas, the plant that had saved their skins so many times in this place, with its healing leaves, strong stems and beautiful pale blue flowers. She wondered if Lan really would wear his hunting leathers; the men didn’t typically dress up for their weddings like the women did. Would it be such a bad thing if he did? It was the Lan she fell in love with, after all. Her hunter who couldn’t kill her, now her hunter who would die for her. Her father would like him, she thought, he was good and kind and gentle, and he would take care of her. She hoped they would still be able to meet, she hoped against hope that she would wear that dress one day.
She leaned her head on Lan’s shoulder then, suddenly weary from her daydream, and smiled happily.
‘We’ll get through this, Lan,’ She echoed his words softly. ‘I truly believe that. I believe in you.’
Lan took in her strength and comfort in that moment, keeping him going. ‘All I am now, Sora, is because of you. As long as you are with me, I will never let you down.’
Lan spoke with all the sincerity in the world, and Sorraru felt that familiar, undeniable safety she always felt when she was with him. As long as they were together, they could defeat anything. They broke through the edge of the forest into the wide open clearing dotted with the pale blue of the Argas flowers, in bloom for the first time since they had arrived here, as though nature’s reflection of their hopefulness. They walked together through that field of memories to find the man who kept them there and secure their freedom, or their end. Come what may, they would face it together.