Serena stared at Inés, who was currently riding ahead of her and Sylvie. She was starting to realise just how little she knew about Inés. She hadn’t noticed her gills. She hadn’t known just how absurdly strong she was.
Sylvie lightly tapped her shoulder. “Please refrain from staring longingly at her,” Sylvie whispered “It’s not a suitable way for other travellers to see us.”
“Sorry,” Serena replied. “It’s just… never mind.”
“Hey,” Inés called. “I see a good spot to stop to let the horses rest for a bit.”
“I suppose it can’t be helped,” Sylvie said. “We don’t want to run the poor dears ragged.”
The three stopped in the clearing that Inés had picked out and dismounted, tying their horses.
Inés turned to Serena. “Are you hungry?”
“A bit,” Serena said.
“Then let me catch you something,” Inés said. “After all, a girl needs to see to her partner’s needs, right?” She winked and hurried off.
“Get some for me too while you’re at it!” Sylvie called.
“I don’t really understand her,” Serena muttered.
“The Mermaid?” Sylvie asked. She sighed. “I’ve known that girl for four years and I don’t really get her either. She’s crude, single minded and yet… something about her draws people to her. You included.”
“Is that why you don’t like her, Miss Fortunio?” Serena asked.
“I don’t particularly dislike her,” Sylvie said. “We simply don’t get along.”
“How is that different from what I said?” Serena asked.
“Don’t worry about it, Dear,” Sylvie said. “It is a subtle distinction.”
“What are you two talking about?” Inés asked.
“It seems your young lady is interested in knowing more about you,” Sylvie said. “What did you get to eat?”
“Some berries and roots,” Inés answered. “I figured we probably wouldn’t want to hang out long enough to cook something.”
“Enough for all of us, I trust?” Sylvie stated.
“Certainly,” Inés answered. “We are all in this together, you know.”
They ate a quick meal and Inés took Serena’s hand. “Hold down the fort, I’m borrowing her for a bit.”
“It’s midday!” Sylvie exclaimed. “Is now really the time?”
“Totally not what we’re going to be doing,” Inés stated. “This time, anyway.”
She led Serena a short distance away.
“Inés?” Serena asked.
“I’m an orphan,” Inés stated. “Abandoned at Hera’s temple and raised by her priestesses. Seventeen years old. I started my training with a special recommendation to start earlier than usual because I knew, even as a child, that I wanted to be a warrior priestess. And because there were some special circumstances, Diana accepted my application.” She stopped talking and gazed at Serena. “Was there anything in particular you wanted to know?”
“Actually,” Serena said. “I was really curious about your strength. I’ve never seen a person take on a giant before so…”
Inés laughed. “Sorry, I can’t tell you where my strength comes from. I’d like to say that it’s intense training and I worked for it, but that’s not true. When I was eight, I got into a fight with another kid being raised at the temple. I forget what it was over, I think that she said Athena’s priestesses weren’t that cool or something and I got annoyed. Anyway, I pushed her away. It wasn’t even that hard, but she went flying & she really got hurt.”
Inés knelt down and stared at her hands. It was then that I realised that I wasn’t like everyone else. My gills already set me apart and now…now I had something else. Something more dangerous. I spent so long learning to hold back so I wouldn’t hurt anyone. I shouldn’t complain, because it’s really awesome to be strong, but it’s also frightening. Whenever I’m with Julia or Flora or Rebecca or any of the other girls or even you, I can’t lose myself completely in the moment. No matter how much I may want to, because I’m afraid that if I do, I’ll hurt you.”
Serena knelt down and put her arms around Inés. “I’m sorry, I didn’t know. Didn’t realise… I’m sorry.”
“It’s not your fault,” Inés said. “You just want to know about me, right? Thank you.”
She got back up. “Come on, let’s get back. Sylvie is going to cause a scene if we stay here too long. If there’s ever anything specific you wanna know about me, just ask. I’ll answer if I can.”
“Thank you,” Serena said. “Although I am surprised. I thought you were older than that, but you really aren’t that much older than me.”
Inés laughed. “I know. Since I started my training so young, I was always the baby of the group. When I first started, my fellow trainees used to offer me candy and pet my head like I was the mascot or something.”
Serena laughed with her and the two headed back.