“Alright, I’m ready.” Varra kept her eyes closed, unsure of what was supposed to come next.
“Okay. Make sure your eyes are closed and your body is relaxed.”
“I thought that’s what we spent the last ten minutes doing.” She did a poor job hiding the annoyance in her tone.
“Don’t respond,” he replied, firm but gentle. “Just follow my instructions and be patient.”
She let out a breath. “Fine. Lead the way.”
“Once you’re relaxed, take a few deep breaths. In… then out…” Maelys spoke slowly as he followed his own guidance. A deep, slow inhale, followed by a full, steady exhale. “In… then out…” he repeated.
Varra did as she was told, waiting for the next step. He sure was taking his time.
“I want you to try your best to settle into this moment,” he continued. “Relax your breath, just breathe normally, and put aside all your troubles. Don’t dwell on the past. Don’t worry about the future. These things don’t matter as much as the present. Concentrate on your breath. That’s the only thing that matters.”
He stopped talking after that, and the only thing she could hear was the sound of her own breathing. The more she thought about it, though, she picked up the hollow echo that served as white noise in the dungeons. It was quiet, barely audible in between her breaths. Where was that noise coming from? What was the source of sound in such an empty space? They were most certainly the only prisoners here. The Hand of Justice often enacted his decrees immediately, and there were no petty thieves in Upper Terrace. Anyone like that wouldn’t find themselves here in the first place. Eathe was definitely a minority. People from Lower Terrace rarely if ever found a place here.
But she was glad that he had found that place. He was a remarkable man, and an excellent officer. She wished things had been different. Maybe they both would have been happier as commoners. Perhaps then she wouldn’t have had to live with the burden of—
“If your mind has strayed away from the breath,” Maelys said, “stop thinking about whatever it is. It’s not important. Just go back to thinking about the breath.”
He couldn’t read minds, could he? Had he been lying about not knowing how to use magic all this time? Did he know how she felt? Did she know how she felt? All these stupid emotions did nothing but get in the way. She didn’t want to see Maelys die, that much she was certain of. She would only have herself to blame if he did. And for how little they knew each other, he did seem intent on trying to help her.
“I’m going to ask a question,” he said. “And I want you to answer simply with yes or no. Have you been able to remain focused on just stay on the breath?”
She exhaled, knowing full well she had done a very poor job of listening to his instructions. Maybe if he held her hand again… She shook her head at the thought. “No,” she admitted.
“That’s okay,” he said, his voice still full of levity. “I told you it’s hard the first time. Once you get comfortable letting go of your thoughts and attaching your focus to the breath, then I can try to teach you how to do mind projection.”
She heard him shuffling, and took that as a signal that the practice was over. She opened her eyes and looked up at him as she stood with him. “I’m sorry.”
He put a hand on her shoulder. “It’s okay. Really. Don’t beat yourself up. I honestly didn’t expect you to be as patient as you were.”
But she hadn’t been patient, had she?
A door swung open, and she heard the sound of footsteps walking, almost marching down the corridor. Eathe.
The current Hand of Defense walked in, armored in full plate as he often was, and without a helmet as per usual.
“Greetings, you two. Getting along well?”
Varra, already the closer of the two, stuck her hands out from the bars and grabbed him by the shoulders, pulling him in for a kiss. Eathe was clearly caught off balance, but seemed to relax into it with a few awkward steps.
After a moment, she parted, and the room was left in a stunned silence. They glanced at each other, and Maelys shrugged. She thought about kissing him again, if they were just going to stand there slack jawed, but thought better of it. One was probably enough. For now.
“Right…” Eathe said, clearing his throat. “Now that that’s out of the way, on to business. I come with bad news.”
Maelys didn’t say anything. If anything, he took a step away from the two of them. What had gotten into him? “Well,” Varra said. “Out with it.”
“We’ve got a few minutes to chat and plan,” Eathe replied. “But I’m to take Maelys to the inner courtyard to be executed now.”