Winter – Chapter 22 – 02

            “The once and future king,” Cameron echoed.  “Are we talking King Arthur, knights of the Round Table, T.H. White, Mists of Avalon craziness, or something else?”
            Neve uttered a weak, broken laugh.  “Think about who you’re talking to.  You’ve seen the things that attacked us.  What’d you call it, a troll?”
            “That’s what it looked like,” Cameron said, momentarily distracted from the matter at hand.  “Big, green, and ugly.”
            “It was a firbolg,” she said.  “Traditional enemies, all that.  We sort of shoved them out of our territory and out of the Isles, too.  Not nice types.”  Neve inched closer, arms curling around his shoulders.  “We gave them a good reason for hate.”
            “Enough hate as a people to single you out?”
            She winced.  “That’s more complicated.”  And I don’t want to talk about it.  It treads too close to things I fear.
            Cameron laced his fingers through her hair and held her for a few long, quiet moments.
            Neve pressed closer, eyes sliding shut.  Maybe he’ll just let it go.
            “Your family makes a lot of enemies,” he finally said.
            Close enough.  “Yeah,” she said, sighing.  “It either came with the territory or with theboys I grew up with, one or the other.  Not sure which.”  Maybe we can stay another day like this, even if the storm finally breaks.  “Just a fact of life, I guess,” she murmured into his shoulder.
            “Apparently so.”  He fell quiet again.  He must have been listening to the storm.
            Laying in his arms, she was comfortable and warm, but at the same time she was acutely aware of how much she still hurt.  Moving her leg was still agony and the rest of her still felt like she’d been bruised straight down to the bone.
            But I’m still alive to feel the pain.  That’s better than the alternative—much, much better.
            “So is it?”
            “Is what…what?”  She felt addled.  I must have dozed off for a moment.  What were we talking about?
            “This once and future king business.  Arthur, Round Table, all that jazz?”
            “Oh,” Neve said, swallowing a yawn before it could escape her lips.  “Do you want the honest answer, a lie, or what I actually believe?”
            Cameron considered the question for a moment, then said, “Which one am I most likely to want to believe?”
            “None of the above.”  Neve tugged the blankets closer.
            “All right.  Which is closest to the truth?”
            “That’s an even harder question to answer.”  Neve opened her eyes and looked up at him.  His gaze was focused on something very far away.  She sighed silently and tucked her face against his breastbone again.  “I guess it might be.  Societies live and breathe mythologies, and that’s honestly one of the most enduring.  Maybe it’s that way for a reason.  I don’t know.  I honestly don’t know.  I just know what the prophecies said, and the prophecies said that a king would rise.  They didn’t even say whether he would be a good king or a bad king, just that there would be a king. That’s probably why everyone’s jockeying for position now.”
            “And now we’re back to discussing the war, aren’t we?”  Cameron said quietly.  “I’m a part of it because you found me first?”
            “You’re a part of it because you survived,” Neve said.  “There was never any avoiding it.  Anyone who lived is eventually going to end up on one side or another.  Neutrality is a farce.  You can try it, but it’s probably just going to get you killed—either because you said no to the wrong person or because someone assumes that because you trade with this community or sheltered that traveler, you must be on this side or that side of the conflict.”  She swallowed against the lump in her throat.  “I wish it wasn’t that way, but that’s the way it’s probably going to end up.”
            “Is there anything we can do to stop it from being that way?”  Cameron asked quietly.
            “Yeah,” she said.  “Kick some ass and take some names and pray a lot that I’m not wrong about all of this.”
            “This being?”
            “Everything,” she said.  “Absolutely everything.”

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