Malcolm stood up quickly and helped her with her bag. "Almost," he teased, "I was just finishing up."
"Sit down!" The woman insisted, "I have to take those stitches out."
Malcolm did as he was told, the removal of the stitches was well overdue, but just like with any injury the man sustained, they all took longer than most people to heal. Vanessa's hands were shaky and she steadied them against his shoulder as she worked, cutting each stitch carefully and counting how many she managed to pull free, recalling that there had been at least ten. To find eleven satisfied her woes about leaving any behind.
"How's it look?" Malcolm asked.
"Sore," she admitted, "does it hurt?"
"No, my love."
Vanessa removed the last stitch and set the knife down that she had used to pull them undone. She took a sip of her husband's drink and sat in the chair closest to his, holding the hot drink in her hands to warm them. Vanessa didn't say anything but Malcolm could tell there was something on her mind. He rolled the city paper up in his hands before setting it down upon the table and looked across at the noble woman. "Vanessa?"
She smiled, "I worry, you know that."
"It will only be a few days, if that."
"Not about the mission," she told him, closing her hand over his knee.
"What is it?"
"You, my darling, how should I convince you that our time is through?"
"Vanessa," his tone of voice grew deeper, stern, "I'm going to stop you right there."
"Malcolm, please," she sighed, "it won't be long before I become a bigger burden to you than your job. My family can look after and provide for me, you don't have to do that anymore."
Malcolm got up and pushed his chair away from the table. He padded across the floor into the kitchen and got himself a glass of water, his back to his wife. Vanessa fixed her hair and pushed the warm mug aside. "I want you to remember the good times," she said, "not think of how sick and tired, and old..."
"Enough!" He turned, "until the end," he said, "that was our promise to each other the day we got married."
"And if I had known," she stood up slowly and crossed the room to join him, her right hand pressed to his cheek, "had I known then what I know now," she whispered.
"It would have changed nothing," he smiled sadly.
"I loved you more than the feel of the sun on my skin," she mouthed.
He kissed her forehead firmly, "I still love you," he assured her, "please don't bring this up again?"
The noble woman offered a simple nod of her head and reached up to kiss his cheek. She held his face in her hands for what seemed an age before taking to the stairs in order to tuck herself away with a good book; she never said goodbye, only hello.
Outside the northern gate, his team was already gathering, stood around or perched on their horses. The captain scanned their faces to make sure everyone was present, Kathryn, Benjamin, Ronald, Simon, Heath, and Nathan. With everyone accounted for, Malcolm steered his horse over to the group and checked to see how they were all doing, that they had their packs and all understood the mission.
"Stop fussing," Heath smirked, "we've done this a hundred times before. Ride north down the back roads, check in on a few old bandit hangouts, deliver the supplies to the northern farmsteads, camp beside the lake, rinse and repeat."
"You got the map?"
Heath nodded, "So does Ronald."
"Good," Malcolm nodded, turning his mount as he heard the heavy footfalls of another rider approaching, "Elyna?" He said quietly to Heath.
"Did you know she was joining us?" The man inquired.
"It completely slipped my mind..."
"She thinks this is another routine patrol?"
"I better break the news," the captain informed his comrade before thumping the gelding in his sides to urge the animal from a standstill into a light canter.
The horse covered ground quickly and fell into a natural gallop, closing the distance in a heartbeat. When Malcolm was forced to pull the animal up, the horse threw his head back and snorted, nostrils flared as he filled his lungs with a deep drag of air. "Lady Elyna," Malcolm smiled, "you will have to forgive me, I forgot we were expecting you today. The team is headed for Lake Krom," he didn't expect her to join them, but would give her the option to decide. "We will be roughing it for a few nights, if you don't have the leave to join us please don't feel pressured to."