“Well you just gonna sit there in the dust?! Get up and try it again, we are losing light! Show me your heart!” His voice was hard, almost ugly in her hearing. The way his eyes shifted around her, but never quite at her made her cheeks burn and the back of her eyes sting.
She wasn’t going to cry. Not today. Grunting, Adelaide heaved herself up from the rocky ground. Some of the pebbles clung to her backside while others bobbed in mid-air as if undecided about gravity and its presents. This planet was strange that way. It was so much like Earth and yet not like Earth. Adelaide took a step forward and felt a stab of pain searing deep into her hip. She bit down a cry but enough had escaped her throat for Rory to hear.
Adelaide placed her hand on the saddle pummel and took in a breath, hoping she could breathe away the pain. She had enough bruises already to soak away. Rory’s eyes finally met hers. They were so dark, like molasses. Everything about him was dark. Adelaide tried to avert her eyes from his. If she stared too long at him she would indeed cry.
“Crying is weakness.” That is what she had been told before heading out to the Lower Lands. “A man is easily broken out in the Lower Lands. Those that aren’t end up hard. They don’t have time to be fiddling with a weak-fleshed woman and her tears. They need a capable partner to hone the land. Are you capable, Corporal Adelaide Shoe?” She had been asked that too many times to count. She felt as if the words were branded to her brain. And each time she had been asked she had given the same answer. “I am capable.” She had proven she was capable too, fit and tough, sharper than obsidian. But now, hand on the pummel of a strange beast that reminded her of slender hippo, with pain ticking in her joints, she didn’t know anymore. “The Lower Lands need women with heart! You better have heart.”
A hot tear fell from her eye, betraying her in the silence that had grown in between her falling and Rory’s barking. Adelaide’s heart could have stopped beating. She would be sent back. Others had. Other Corporals had been assigned to the Lower Lands, assigned to Rory McArther to hone the land, populate it. But all of them had come back home in shame, and now Adelaide would be another. None of them, however had been sent home because of tears.
Still as a statue, she watched the dark man circle around the large beast, moving towards her. His molasses eyes refusing to blink. She couldn’t read them and yet she couldn’t look away. He stopped beside her, so close she could feel the heat of his breath push through the wool of her hair. He said nothing, only stared at her. Adelaide felt more tears seep from her eyes as she waited. Rory’s hand clamped down on hers pulling it free from the pummel. Another nasty pain ripped through her joint and she closed her eyes. He kept her balanced.
Adelaide kept her eyes closed, in the silence, even as Rory turned her shoulders towards him. She felt his arms pull her close, pushing her head to his chest. She took in a breath, at first hearing nothing but silence where his heart should have been, but then a slow thud began to grow equal in tempo to hers. It was the sound of her heart, somehow beating in the hallow of Rory’s chest. His chin rested on her head and he squeezed her tighter. She could not help but squeeze him back.
He whispered. “You have heart, Adelaide. You have heart.”