Winter – Chapter 19 – 02

            They rode down into a hollow, through a stand of trees to a small clearing that overlooked a creek.  Fast-moving water tumbled over rocks, liquid at the center of the creek even as ice built at the edges.  The ground was hard beneath the hooves of their horses, a sure sign that winter was coming on quickly.
            “Never had a ground this hard this early in the year,” Cameron said as his boots hit the ground.  He tethered his mount loosely to a sapling and inspected the clearing with a critical eye.  Neve shifted uncomfortably in her saddle, trying to smother a wince at the twinging in her thighs and spine.
            “It’ll be a hard winter,” she said, the reins twisting in her hands.  “Are you sure you want to stop here?  We could ride on.”
            He glanced toward her, eyes crinkling as he looked past her toward the sky.  “Have a look at those clouds.  We’d be lucky to get another couple miles before it hits, and I don’t think we’ll find a better campsite.”
            She followed his gaze, watching the gray-black clouds pile up against each other high above.  Her lips thinned and she nodded.  “I see your point.”
            “Thought you might.”  Cameron paused near one side of the clearing, giving it a long look around.  “Right here, I think.”
            Neve nudged her horse closer to him.  It’d become a familiar pattern.  He’d lift her down from the saddle and she’d sit in the grass and organize their dry food supplies and pots or mend anything that needed mending while he set camp.  She still felt vaguely useless, but until her leg healed, there wasn’t much more she could do.  She could stagger around with a stick to brace her, but even that was questionable activity, at best.
            Her arms slid around Cameron’s shoulders as he lifted her out of the saddle and she held him for a moment longer than usual.  He tilted his head slightly to one side, looking at her.
            “What’s wrong?” he murmured softly, his arms around her waist, taking most of her weight.
            She shook her head slightly.  “I don’t know.”  She leaned against him for a moment longer before relaxing in fractions.  “I don’t know.  Something just…made me do it.”
            He gave her a crooked smile and gently lowered her to the ground, then turned to start unloading their saddlebags, the tents, the bedrolls, the other supplies.  “We’ll be fine,” he said as he led her horse over to the sapling where he’d left his own.  “It’s just a storm.  Nothing worse than that.  Snow’ll come, wind’ll come, but we’ll be fine.  I’ll make a lean-to for the horses like I did before and they’ll stay warm and the tent’ll keep us plenty warm.”
            Neve tucked her hands into the sleeves of her coat, the chill of winter nibbling at her fingertips.  “You’re right.  I’ll just be more comfortable when we find what we’re looking for.”  Her brows knit as she watched Cameron start to pitch their tent.  “What are we looking for, anyway?  We’re not just looking for any settlement, are we?  Something’s tugging you along.”
            Cameron winced slightly but didn’t deny it.  He was silent, pitching the tent as the dark clouds gathered, piling on top of each other like snowdrifts, drawing inexorably closer.
            “Cam,” Neve finally said, her voice gentle. “If you can’t trust me with what’s bothering you, who can you trust?”
            He laughed a soft, bitter laugh and nodded.  “You’re right.”  Still, he didn’t say more until he was starting to gather deadwood from around the edges of the clearing to build a fire.
            Then, finally: “I keep having dreams of people in danger,” Cameron said quietly, dropping a pile of wood near her feet.  He dropped to his knees next to it and starting to arrange the deadwood.  “I keep seeing fighting and hearing the screams and I know I’m supposed to be there—I don’t know if I’m supposed to be there to stop it or to help them.  But I have to get there.”  He took a tiny box of matches from a pocket of his coat and twisted some leaves and grass into tinder.  His hands shook slightly as he lit the fire.  “I don’t know why I’m going there, Neve,” he whispered.  “I’m just running.  Running away, running toward…I don’t know which.”
            Neve touched his arm.  “Oh Cam.”  Her brows knit together.  Teague, what have you done?  What have you started?  She inched a little closer.  Cameron put his arm around her for a moment and squeezed her tightly against his side.
            “I’m glad you’re with me,” he said.  “I don’t know what I’d do.  Having you here helps.  I can think about things other than the goddamned dreams.”  He knuckled his eyes, then shook himself and leaned forward to make sure the fire caught on more of the kindling piled around the tinder.  Neve squeezed his arm.
            “Anything I can do, I’ll do it,” she told him softly as he stood up.  “Just say the word.”
            Cameron smiled weakly, staring down at her.  For a moment, she wondered what he was thinking.
            Then he swung away, shaking his head at himself as he scooped up the kettle and headed for the stream. “I’ve got to get that lean-to set for the horses,” he grumbled.
            “Cam?”
            “I’m fine,” he said as he walked to the creek.
            You’re not.  But I’ll get to the bottom of it sooner or later.
            Neve sighed and dug out two mugs and two satchels of tea.  For now, it was all she could do.

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