The Rainlords dispersed, but no one left the castle just yet. Everyone promised to call around for any available reapers. Mariana almost told them not to bother, but the desperation of her circumstances had begun to weigh on her, finally. And in the past couple hours, her trust for everyone in that room had grown immeasurably.
In truth, even after all these years, even after giving birth to five new Rainlords, she’d never quite felt like a Rainlord herself. She’d only married into the title, not been born with it.
But today, she felt it. That companionship. Ancient and bloody and fierce and warm. And so very welcome.
The rest of the day drew out slowly. Mariana waited as long as she could, spent as much time with her daughters as she could, and hoped silently that someone would walk through that door with a reaper for Marcos. But no one did.
The girls had been quiet, perhaps afraid to ask their questions, perhaps just knowing that their mother would talk to them in her own time. Mariana thought at length about what she should say to them, what her last words should be.
It wasn’t easy.
“You will be safe here. I wouldn’t leave you if I thought otherwise. Red Lake is one of the most secure castles in all of Sair.” Mariana paused, her expression spoiling slightly. “But I don’t know what the future holds. Something could happen. Even if I remained here with you, something could happen. Do you remember what I taught you? The most important lesson?”
“Always be prepared,” Ramira piped up.
Mariana smiled tiredly. “Yes.”
“Think, plan, and act ahead of time,” added Emiliana.
“That’s right. You are smart girls. I have confidence in you both. Look out for one another. Listen to one another. And protect each other. Do you understand? The time for childishness is past. It is unfair, but both of you must grow up quickly now. That means you will have to give up on many of the things you desire. Possibly forever. You will come to accept this, or you will get someone killed. Perhaps someone you love very dearly. Perhaps yourself. Perhaps both.”
The looks on their faces were stern, and Mariana knew they understood. Or hoped they did, at least.