Winter – Chapter 19 – 01

            Magairlí,” Neve spat, hands tightening around her reins as she swayed in the saddle, pain shooting up her leg.  Wind gusted cold out of the north, battering she and Cameron and making it that much harder for her to stay mounted.
            Cameron twisted to look at her, reining up.  “Neve?”
            “I’m fine,” she said, tugging her coat tighter and trying not to shiver.  “Bloody wind just keeps trying to knock me out of the saddle.”  Her mount eased up next to Cameron’s.  She tugged on the reins, urging the horse to halt.  It nickered and obeyed, snuffling and pawing at the ground.
            Cameron reached across the gap and touched her hand.  “Maybe we should make camp.”
            “Too early.  We can make at least another dozen miles before a storm hits.”
            His fingers tightened.  “Neve.”
            “I’m serious,” she said, hating how much like a whine her voice sounded.  She set her jaw, her other hand covering his.  “Trust me.  I’m all right.”
            “If we find a decent place to camp, we’re going to,” Cameron said.  His eyes said that he didn’t really believe that she was fine, but he was willing to let her win this time.  Neve smiled a tight smile and squeezed his hand.
            Thank you for that, at least.  “I can agree to that.  Whatever’s coming isn’t going to be pleasant.”
            “Another one out of the north,” Cameron said, shaking his head and squinting up at the dark clouds to the north.  They boiled, twisting back on each other like water over a Bunsen burner.  “And worse than all the ones before.”
            Neve tried not to shiver.  Shivering still hurt.  Her body was still black and blue from her close encounter with the firbolg—and she was certain that’s what she’d had a close encounter with, based on Cameron’s description of the thing—and while parts had dulled to yellow and brown as they healed, it seemed she discovered new places she’d hurt every time she moved.
            Riding isn’t smart, but we also don’t have a choice if we want to make it to where we’re going by the time the real storms come.
            Their mounts had eaten up the miles these past weeks since her injury, and as they urged their horses into motion again, side by side, they got moving at as quick a clip as Neve could stand.  It was slower than she would have liked, but almost too fast for her to take.  Every night she fell out of the saddle and into Cameron’s arms, letting him cradle her like a child as he carried her to a waiting bedroll while he made camp.
            She felt utterly useless but tried to make up for it on the road by being as little a burden as possible.
            And still, he worried.
            He worries because he loves me.  I wouldn’t be any different if our situations were reversed.  Of course, I think I’m more stubborn than he is.  She watched him for a few moments as they rode together.  He had the countenance of a hero of old, of the times before the years were truly measured, in the time of gods and legends.
            I’m glad he loves me.  I’m glad it’s he and I, not him and someone else.
            “What’s wrong?”
            She startled slightly, then winced as the sudden movement shot lances of pain up and down her spine.  “Huh?”
            Cameron smiled crookedly.  “You’re looking at me strange.  Just staring.  Your horse could’ve ridden right off the edge of a cliff and I don’t think you’d have noticed.”
            “Oh.”  She let out a brief, ragged laugh.  “I was just thinking, that’s all.  Not about anything important, really, just reflecting.”
            “Reflecting, eh?  On?”
            They were riding almost close enough for their knees to touch, though Cameron was careful not to catch her bad leg between the horses.  It had happened once and she’d blacked out from how much it’d hurt.
            “That I got lucky,” she said, her voice quiet, barely audible over the wind.  “I’m not alone out here.  I’ve got you, and you chose me.”
            “I’d do it all over again, too,” he said.  He smiled.  Dirae and all.”
            They hadn’t encountered anything like the Dirae or the firbolg since the ambush on the road.  One morning by the lake they’d been scared witless for a few moments by a hawk’s cry before they’d realized what it was.  It had sounded like some kind of harpy coming after them, though.
            “Even with my brother?”
            His grin broadened.  “Even with your crazy brother.  The more I think about it, the more I think that maybe he’s not as bad as I keep wanting to think he is.  He loves you and his wife, and your family.  I can tell.  Even if I’m not completely sold on everything he told me, enough of it made too much sense for me to not believe parts of it.”  The smile faded and his eyes grew distant for a few moments.  “What terrified me the most at first was how old he said you guys were.  Then I started to realize that it didn’t really matter, since you were here now and had given up…well, a lot.  And you’d done it willingly.”
            “I’d do it all over again,” Neve said softly.  “Over and over again as long as I knew that it’d lead me to this and you.”  Whatever Teague might have thought, whatever his theory of the future was, it’s wrong.  It wasn’t supposed to be this man and Aoife.  It was supposed to be Cameron and I.
            Cameron smiled at her, then shook his head slightly, nudging his horse off the main road.  “Come on.  I think there’s a good place to camp this way.”
            “We haven’t gone that much farther,” Neve said.
            “No,” he agreed.  “But I don’t think we’ll find a better place to weather an oncoming storm.  Let’s have a look.  If I’m wrong, we’ll still have time to press on.”
            “Mm.”  She nudged her horse into following him.  “Where do you think we are?”
            “Ontario, maybe,” he said.  “We probably should have stuck to following along the rivers, but for some reason, due west felt better than cutting south.”  He rolled his shoulders as if they were uncomfortably tight.  “If I’m wrong, that’s what we get for following my heart.”
            “I trust it,” Neve said softly, fervently.  I trust it so much it might kill us both.  But I trust it just the same.

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