Two days passed before the storm abated and they were able to dig their way out of their shelters, to even think about riding on. Neve spent those two days curled in the protective cocoon of Cameron’s arms, limply exhausted and wrung out by the days spent on the road in pain and then the events of their first night in this camp, when they were attacked. Her dreams, too, were troubled, memories and visions of a war now long ago and far away.
It was sometime before dawn on the second day when she woke to hear the wind beginning to taper off. The fire was burning low. As she moved to tend it, Cameron’s arms tightened around her.
“Lie quiet,” he murmured in her ear. “I’ll take care of the fire. Keep the blankets warm.”
She made a whimpering sound of protest, but she stayed where she was as he gently disengaged his arms from around her and got up to stir the fire back to life and add another log to keep it going. Neve watched him move, limed in the light from the fire. The bandages on his side were clean—no sign of bleeding since they’d changed the bandages yesterday. He looked good. Strong.
I’m lucky. She lifted the covers so he could rejoin her underneath the blankets. He shivered slightly as he slid beneath and wrapped his arms around her again, smelling of smoke and him. Neve settled back into his arms and closed her eyes again, listening to the crackling of the fire, the wind outside, and his breathing.
Cameron pressed a kiss to the back of her neck after a moment and sighed softly. “It sounds like it’s getting better out there.”
She nodded slightly. “Yeah. It does, a lot. We should be able to ride today, I hope.”
He nodded, resting his chin against the top of her head. “We’ll see.” His arms tightened slightly. “Tell me about this war I’ve been sucked into, Neve,” he said, his voice quiet. “Your brother said that there was one I’d become a part of as soon as I woke up. Tell me.”
She winced slightly, twisting toward him in the dim, moving so they lay chest to chest rather than her back to his chest. Cameron ran his fingers through her hair, eyes glittering in the firelight.
“Tell me,” he whispered. “It must be bloody well important if people are hunting us both.”
Neve winced again. “Us, them, my cousins…a lot of people are going to be hunted because they’ve been sucked into this, whether they like it or not.” She rested her forehead against his. “Promise me that you won’t think I’m crazy?”
“Acch, Neve,” he said. “If I thought you were crazy, I’d never have left with you. There’s nothing you could say now that would change my mind.”
That’s what you say now. She brushed her thumbs against his cheeks. “Are you sure?”
“Every time you ask that, I begin to wonder whether or not I should be.” The corner of his mouth twitched upward in a smile. “In for inches, in for miles, Neve. Tell me. Please.” His smile faded. “Before it gets both of us killed. That man two nights ago, he wasn’t here to play games. He put that knife in me for a reason, didn’t he?”
“But I don’t know what it was. He hadn’t taken sides.”
“In the war,” Cameron said.
“Yes,” Neve said, her voice a bare whisper. “In the war.” She squeezed her eyes shut for a long moment, took a deep breath, then exhaled slowly before she felt steady enough, strong enough to speak.
“It actually started well before I was ever born, but open warfare…that was forestalled for a long time. Perhaps that wasn’t for the best, because it gave every side far too much time to build alliances, and I’m ashamed to admit that we did not spend nearly as much time and effort at that as we should—and we’ve always been the types to make enemies easily. It’s just in our nature.” She smiled a tiny, weak smile as she opened her eyes. “There’s a reason that Puck is such a recurrent character in lit out of the Isles, you know.”
“Robin Goodfellow Puck? A Midsummer Night’s Dream Puck?”
She nodded slightly. “Like that. We—one in particular—have a penchant for that kind of mischief. We’re not cruel by any stretch of the imagination, but…well. Sometimes people take themselves too seriously. My cousin Phelan, he…well. That’s a story for another time. You asked about the war.
“I’ll admit that I’m not sure how it started. I imagine it was either over territory or an insult to someone’s honor—a few misspoken words or an imagined slight. It wouldn’t surprise me. My uncle had arranged a very uneasy peace with the northron clans of Otherworlders—you’d probably find them familiar as a lot of the Norse deities and some Russian and Finnish deities. The interconnections are really hard to keep track of sometimes. Sufficient to say that by the time I was old enough to understand what was really going on, we were in dire need of allies.
“However the war started, it resumed over territory. There’s a myth among Otherworlders that the more mortals that believe in your power, the more powerful you are—the more people who think you’re a god, the more powerful you become. It’s hogwash, but the northron clans and some of the southron clans are bred on this shit. They cut their teeth on it and believe it with their whole hearts.”
“Is that what’s going on now?” Cameron interrupted. “Are they all waking up because the world’s broken and they’re seeing this as some kind of grand opportunity to relive their glory days?”
Neve laughed a weak, broken laugh that made her ribs ache more than they had any right to. “I wish it was that simple. There’s a prophecy, too.”
“Yes,” she said, staring into the depths of his eyes in the dim. “One that the Oracle of Delphi, the Pythia, Cassandra, the druids, my mother, my brother, Mimir and every other Seer who’d ever seen seemed to agree on.
“When stone rains from the sky and the old world dies comes the time of gods and monsters and heralds the coming of a once and future king.”
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