Chapter 1: Advice
When Brier closed her eyes she could see the girls she had once been clearly. With skinny shoulders and knobby elbows peeking through her homespun dress. She’d worn her hair long, in braids on either side of her face. The Delman house was cramped with so many brothers underfoot, but the girl in her memory had walked with her head up and her shoulders back, taking up as much space as she liked. After all, once she left the cabin she had all of the mountains to sprawl over.
When she thought of herself now she seemed like a shadow of that girl. Hair clipped short, shrinking to avoid notice. Where had she gone wrong?
Back then, she’d been bold and confident and happy. Every now and then her mother, or her sister, or the village priest would scold her about this or that and she had wished she could be daintier and more careful and more ladylike, like Cece. The feeling would pass again when Darys asked if she wanted to go climb the tree by the creek.
But, Brier reminded herself, it is easy to remember the best of the past and gloss over the worst. True, at times she had been happy and confident and bold, but at other times she had been cold and hungry and at a loss to help her family make it through the winter. Determined to be more than just another mouth to feed, she’d forged and hunted with her brothers. She’d gathered and chopped firewood. She’d warmed her fingers slowly by the fire, rubbing the color and life back into them, lest she lose one like Darys.
She’d had reasons to come here beyond the frivolous dreams of teenage girl of making her way in the big city and dressing in a sharp uniform. (Though she had to admit that seeing Albin’s sharp uniform again and again through the years had probably influenced her choice. )
People asked her all the time “are you sorry you ever left home?” The answer was no. No matter how miserable she was from time to time, the reasons she had left - the need for more income to get the family through the hard winters, her lack of enthusiasm for her arranged fiancé - hadn’t changed.
Was there anything she could have done differently, then? To make things easier? She wondered what she would say to that girl that she had once been, if they ever met.
Perhaps she would warn a younger Brier that, just like in a small village everyone in the wider world did not wish one another well. The difference was that in the city people kept their expressions flat and their emotions burried. It made it harder to tell who you can trust.
She didn’t regret her hard work, or her choices not to ally herself with the crude and nasty young men who she had trained with, but perhaps she would warn a younger Brier that a softer approach would help her to keep more of herself. Everyone didn’t need to know how hard you worked or how good you were with a sword.
Somehow it didn’t seem honest, though.
Maybe, Brier thought as she drifted to sleep, maybe the warning that the other recruits were trouble would have been enough to help herself avoid it. There was no telling now, though. The past was past and all she could do was look ahead.