"I'm going to the capital in three days," her sister said calmly, wiping the table.

Joanna stared at Leia in shock and disgust. "You can't go to the capital! The fighting's heavy and unpredictable out there. Maybe you are forgetting that you have three children."

"My children are almost grown," Leia said in a voice like lemon and vinegar. "And there is much money for healers in the capital. If I go when the fighting stops there isn't really much point now, is there."

She pursed her lips. Leia had always been like this, impulsive, annoying and reckless. She had only never thought that she would be reckless not only with her life but also that of her children. "If I wasn't going to Ravenspire –"

"You'd take them, would you?" Her sister smiled, but it was a sour smile of a bitter and broken woman. "Then why don't you? Brandon, at least, can get into the academy easily, you said so yourself…and many people like you have children in the-"

She shook her head. "Ravenspire's not all roses and rainbows. It's dangerous, Leia."

She scoffed. "The world's dangerous, Jo, and it's a better education that any of them are like to get in the battlefield. You know that. You can do your researching and I can do my healing and the children will give you company and maybe learn something…"

"Ravenspire's an academy of mainly sorcery!" She looked at the floor, her hands clenched into fists, her nails biting her flesh. "Brandon will be fine, to be sure, but what about the other two? They might have magic and they might not but they won't enjoy life all that much if they end up being outclassed at everything."

Her sister looked at her, faded blue eyes flaring up with sudden anger. "Ravenspire teaches more than magic."

"They will not want to come," she whispered. "You're their mother…I'm only an aunt…they'll miss you terribly. They need you, sister."

"Oh need me, to be sure! They're not at the age to need me, they're at the age to hate me, the brats. And they'd be jumping with joy to come with you. Besides, they'd do well with the new company and the environment." Her sister's voice faltered suddenly, then softened into her most persuasive tones. "Please, Joanna, little sister…you helped me so often, help me now."

"Their love for me is the love of spring," she said sadly, "It will be hard pressed to stand the test of winter in Ravenspire."

"It's winter now, and it will be worse in the capital. In Ravenspire they will be happy and warm and well-loved by you – you can give them the love that I can't." Her sister took her hand in her worn hands, clasping both, and then whispered, "Please Joanna, for the love you bear them, don't take them away from that."

Sometimes soldiers know that a battle has been lost even before they have reached the battlefield. Joanna had known the moment her sister took her hand. "We'll ask the children, first," she said, half-heartedly, but both of them knew that the decision had been made. Leia smiled and then let go of her hand.

"Edmund! Brandon! Aly! Come on down here!" she shouted at the garden where all her children were.

Edmund, Brandon and Aly were close enough in age, but so different in all other things that they were rarely together. They entered the tiny house one after the other – first the fifteen year old Edmund, and then little Alyson, not yet thirteen, and then quiet Brandon, almost fourteen. She smiled at all of them and they smiled back, full of the happiness that they had borrowed from youth at an amazingly high rate of interest.

"Aunty Jo has a proposal to make," Leia said cleverly, leaving her to be the center of their attention.

She tried to smile. "As you three must know by now, your mother is going soon to the capital, and I to Ravenspire…" She paused and smiled nervously. The three of them looked a little puzzled but not shocked by the news that they were going to the capital. "So, I was wondering, umm, if you would be willing to come with me to the Academy?"

They looked happy enough, still, too happy perhaps, because Leia quickly threw the rag away and walked out. She watched her go, upset about the outburst but glad for the privacy. She was not done yet.

"Listen, children, don't please come because you think I'll be disappointed or something if you don't…this is an important decision, I'll stand by you in whatever decision you want…and so will your mother. And don't come because you think it'll be easier, or safer or more comfortable – there will be fighting here and fighting there and…"

It was Edmund who interrupted her, kind and brave and responsible Edmund, "We know, Aunt. And I, for one, would love to come with you."

"And I've always wanted to go to Ravenspire," said Brandon quietly, lifting his gray eyes hesitatingly to look into hers. She smiled at him.

Alyson smiled prettily, and then pushed back a strand of golden hair to reveal her blue eyes, as brilliant as her mother's had once been. "It will be a whole new adventure."

Leia poked her head into the room again. "Aly, which clothes will you be wanting to take to Ravenspire?"