When Alana left town, she made sure they remembered her. "Now there," they'd say, "was a woman who liked the best of it." She left behind friends and lovers, people who would remember her smile and her laugh and her kindness, but also who would remember the lines of her chin, the shape of her cheekbones, the way she stood, the sound of her voice. A healer in Kerguelen memorized her collarbones and the ridges in her spine, tracing her fingers along them over and over again, whispering her name like an incantation.
In return, Alana remembered their names. The healer was called Yvona--serious Yvona, who carried the weight of a village on her shoulders. Her heart broke when Alana left but she knew where she'd gone. There would always be a trail--Alana made sure of that. She didn't know how else to find her sister.
They'd been identical once, Alana and the apparition that shuffled into Kerguelen that night, but years and distance had changed them. The apparition, whose name was Elara and who'd called herself Eira after the snow, was gaunt and weather-worn and hard, her greatcoat tattered, her eyes the eyes of a woman who would not rest easy wherever she hung her hat.
It was Yvona--gentle Yvona, who carried the weight of a broken heart on her back--who saw her, who called her by her sister's name, who wrapped her in an embrace before the stranger knew what was happening. "Alana, what's happened?"
Elara stared. "She's my sister," she said, in a voice that cracked from disuse, eyes thick with suspicion. "Do you know where she is?"
She ate well that night, as her host told her in loving detail of Alana's deeds, and how she'd made sure everyone knew where she was going. "I thought she just wanted me to follow, but she didn't," Yvona said, her heart breaking again as she made the realization. "She wanted you to follow."
And Elara nodded, and shrugged, and turned her shrug into a stretch to get the knot from her back. "Sorry, kid." Then, because she felt like that was inadequate, she added, "Alana's broken a lot of hearts."
And she slept well that night, and left in the early morning and hoped no one followed her. But Yvona--stubborn Yvona, who always had to fight to get anything done--knew the roads better than this stranger, and she followed, quietly, leaving the town to its fate.
Not every town was filled with broken hearts. Some had only fond memories, some had always known that Alana's smile would be temporary, but they remembered all the same. Sometimes Elara would pretend that she was Alana, other times she'd tell the truth. Always, someone would point her in the right direction and make sure she slept in a warm bed with a full belly and left with food enough for the road. So she followed, and so Yvona followed. Neither of them yet noticed that Elara grew less gaunt and weather-worn as she traveled, that the hitch in her shoulder bothered her less and less.
Not every town was filled with friends, either. A few remembered Alana badly, felt she'd cheated them, betrayed them, wronged them, and sometimes Elara would leave behind bodies where her sister had left behind enemies. But still she would find the right direction, and the people would be glad to be rid of her. And still Yvona followed along--Yvona the healer, stopped to help the wounded before she followed, despite the fear she'd finally lose the trail after so long.
Autumn came, and winter, and finally the trail was fresh. Elara trudged through the snow whose name she'd taken, undaunted by the elements that had been her only companion for years, while Yvona hurried after, feeling herself grow gaunt and weather-worn as Elara herself once was. At each town the time since they'd last seen Alan grew shorter. Three weeks. Two. Until, finally, "Your sister left not two days hence."
Without waiting to sleep that night, Elara bought a horse, so Yvona stole one, and they rode hard for the next town.
A man met them at the gates--"You escaped? How?"--and Elara's sword was at his throat. "Escaped where? Speak quickly." And he pointed to the biggest building in town--of course. Alana would settle for no less.
They'd caught Alana unawares. Now her sister caught them unawares, and showed them that a sword is no mere butcher's tool but an instrument of artistry and finesse. She cut them down one by one, and for all their numbers she seemed to exert no effort in doing so.
When they were no more she found her sister, badly bloodied but alive, and knelt at her side. She was uncertain whether to be overwhelmed with joy or grief, so she made no expression, said nothing, only touched her sister's cheek and said, "I'm here, Alana, I'm here."
And Yvona--road-weary Yvona, brought low by the weight of a thousand miles--ran to her lover's side and tended to her wounds and fed her potent healing tinctures, made with the rarest and most powerful herbs.
And all Alana said to either of them was, "I'm sorry."
She might have died, left untended. Or perhaps she would have lived--scarred, chastened, perhaps, but still alive, and perhaps even her enemies would have become friends after a time. It hardly mattered now. Yvona--pure-hearted Yvona, whose heart was light with relief--tended her old lover's wounds, no matter that Alana had never intended them to stay together forever.
The town made them heroes--Alana and her twin, and Yvona the healer--and they stayed until the spring. By then Alana could walk again, though now she had grown gaunt and pale, while Elara had plumped and softened and walked with a spring in her step rather than a hitch in her shoulders.
They treated Yvona--pragmatic Yvona, who knew better than to let her heart lead her on a wild chase across the land--only with kindness, and she realized, as young lovers sometimes do, that she had loved a feeling, not a person, and that the feeling belonged to the past. She packed up and walked home--a different road, a less urgent road, but she had apologies to make and a village to tend.
And when the twins left town, they made sure they were remembered: Alana, who made friends wherever she went, and Elara, who had walked too many roads without hope of seeing a friendly face. Perhaps their road would be no easier together than apart--perhaps they would both grow gaunt and hard, and would spend many nights hungry. Perhaps Elara's shoulders would develop a hitch once again and Alana would walk with a twinge in her back.
Or perhaps, like the spring, their roads would be a little brighter, a little easier, a little softer. Perhaps they could leave the snow behind.