Winter – Chapter 24 – 04

            “What the hell is going on, Phelan?”  J.T. asked as they headed for the walls, trailing two steps behind Phelan.
            “Nothing,” Phelan growled.  Left the staff on the bed.  I shouldn’t have, but how was I supposed to know I might need it?
            Gods and monsters, I should always expect to need it.  Idiot.
            “I thought we were past this whole lying to each other bullshit.”  J.T. caught Phelan by the shoulder and used his momentum to spin him.  “What the hell is going on?”
            Phelan’s gaze flicked between J.T. and Rory and he sighed, shaking his head quickly.  “Things might be starting too soon.”
            “Like what?  The Shadow Man showing up to eat our faces prematurely?”
            “That wouldn’t happen.  He’s a man of his word.”  The thought made him shiver, though.  As big as a bastard as Cariocecus has always been, can be, he’s always been a man of his word.  Promises are sacrosanct, gifts are sacred.  His voice dropped quiet.  “He gifted them time.”
            “He said that we wouldn’t see him until Midwinter Eve,” J.T. said.  “It’s only another few weeks.”
            “That they wouldn’t see him, at least,” Rory said.  “That doesn’t mean all of us.”
            Bloody loopholes.  “No,” Phelan agreed.  “But he’s careful.  Anything that happens would be totally unseen.”
            “Like Marin suddenly dropping?”  J.T.’s eyes narrowed.  “Could he pull that off?”
            “It’s not his style,” Phelan said as he turned away and started walking again.  The sisters, though…could be, but I hope it’s not.  I don’t think that she’s pissed them off enough.  “This is something different.”
            “Then what the hell is it?”
            Phelan stopped and looked at the two men following him.  “I don’t know yet, but I’m going to figure it out.  Trust me.”

•                   

 
            “We’re getting closer,” Cameron said as he reined up along the edge of the river.
            “How much further, do you think?”  Neve asked, drawing her mount to a stop.
            He looked at her, jaw tightening.  She was pale, still wavering in her saddle, eyes sunken into dark hollows.  “How many more miles do you have in you today?” he asked quietly without quite meaning to speak the words aloud.
            “Cam.”
            “Let him worry, princess,” Thordin said as he swung off his horse and walked closer to the river’s bank, checking the firmness and gauging the depth.  “Lying to him won’t change the truth, and he knows the truth when he hears it.”
            Cameron looked at the other men and felt an odd pang of gratitude even as a faint feeling of fear welled up somewhere in the pit of his stomach.  Do I know the truth when I hear it?
            I suppose most of the time I do.  I just don’t want to believe it sometimes.  He exhaled quietly and reached a gloved hand over to Neve.  “How many miles?”
            “As many as it takes,” she said quietly.  “How far?”
            “I don’t know,” Cameron said softly, shaking his head.  “But we’re close.  I can tell that much.  Less than another day, I’d guess.”
            “Good.”  Her fingers tightened briefly around his hand.  “Do you want to camp here then, start fresh in the morning?”
            “Let’s find a good place to cross the river first, I think.”  Cameron glanced toward Thordin for confirmation.  The blonde man nodded.
            “A good idea.  We could lose half a day trying to find a place to cross a river this wide safely.  Maybe we’ll get lucky and there’ll be a bridge somewhere that’s still mostly intact.”
            Mostly intact.  Cameron winced at the thought of trying to get Neve across a bridge if she couldn’t stay mounted.  “Let’s hope for fully intact,” he said quietly.
            “Fully intact would be better, yes.”  Thordin swung up into his saddle again.  “You know, I don’t think I ever asked what we’re heading toward.”
            “Destiny,” Neve said softly.
            Both men blinked at her.  Thordin was the first to speak.
            “I thought you didn’t believe in that.  Said it was a lot of hogwash.”
            For the first time in a long while, her smile reached her eyes.  “I lied.”

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