A FIRE crackled in the hearth. It was the only noise inside the cabin. He sat on a hard-bottomed chair, staring deeply at the woman he called his wife.

“Divchena,” he whispered. “Please, don’t do this.”

She looked back at him from the dining table bench, tears in her oaken eyes. Sniffling, she pulled a stray hair back behind her ear. “My country is falling apart.”

“We don’t need a country. Not out here. Don’t go. You’ll be killed before you get across the border.”

She bit her lip.

“These are Zoldoni lands,” he said. “Zoldoni trees, Zoldoni skies, Zoldoni mountains. We grew up here. Our village—”

“Our village is gone,” she snapped. “If the Red Queen can’t protect her subjects I’ll find a Queen who will.”

“If you go to war—”

“When. When I go to war, I will fight amongst my sisters and brothers at arms. I am a woman of Kandrisev and it is my duty to fight for it until my dying breath.”

“But why fight for her?”

Silent, she kept her gaze set on the floor. A thousand moments of silence passed between them. Each held a memory, a piece of the life they’d built together. He begged her, in his mind, not to shatter them to pieces.

She took a deep, shuddering breath. “I am barren. I will not bring children into this world. If I cannot protect my own child, I must at least protect another’s.”

“It could be me that’s barren,” he exclaimed. “And I don’t care about children, all I want is you.”

“And you can have me,” she said. “But our home will never be safe. When the raiders come our crops will be taken, our well polluted, and our house burned to ashes. If they let us live, we’ll have nothing. It’s six days to Losevka and even farther to Igna. We will die here in this shack, alone, having done nothing to save ourselves or anyone else. Is that the kind of life you want?”

Tears welled in his eyes. “We’ll be safe if we stay here. There’ll be plenty of orphans. We could adopt. We’ll have as big of a family as you want. We don’t have to die here and you don’t have to sacrifice yourself for nothing. We can make it work.”

“Two years.” Her voice grew loud and biting. “That’s how long we’ve been at war. How many more years do you think it will take to end this if every woman and man isn’t out there fighting to end it? One more? Two? Six?” She picked up the sack on the floor next to her and slung it over her shoulder. Standing, she wiped the tears from her cheeks. At the door, she paused, but did not look back. “When I return—”

“You won’t.” The words shot out of him rough and ragged before he could think what they meant.

She turned, covering her mouth. For a moment, she did not speak. Then, her words were low and fierce. “No. No, I might not. But at least I will have died for something I believe in.”

“Divchena, wait—”

The door shut behind her, leaving only ghosts in the firelight.

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