33: In the Viper's Nest

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"You don't think Briannon is honorable? I bet she would..."

Caval interrupted her with a completely inelegant snort, beginning to unbutton his shirt. "She's a lamb who will follow whatever she is told. She's living in the lap of comfort, and is used to getting what she wants. She doesn't care that an entire group of her people are suffering. And that she could do something about it."

"Someone could bring it up to her, it wouldn't hurt..."

"Not with Lonan hovering around there like a rabid hunting dog. We need someone honorable on that throne."

Like Rory. Blayre thought, a searing hot pain blossoming in her chest. Rory - who doesn't want anything to do with leading Emares.

She glanced up at Caval who was now shirtless. Her mouth went slack and her body filled with heat. Even in all the days of traveling together she hadn't seen him without his elegant attire. Certainly not shirtless.

It's not as if you've never seen a shirtless man before. She chided herself. Besides, how could she go from one second pining after Duke Rorrick, and the next nearly drooling over the gleaming southern skin and hard planes of Caval's bared chest? She rolled over facing away from him before he could see her staring.

She heard him settle on the pallet across the tent, saw the mage lights begin to wink out.

"Goodnight Blayre," He said.

She pretended she was already asleep as a single tear trickled down her cheek.

****

"I wish we could have brought the horses," Blayre complained as she and caval clambered up a rocky slope. Her legs burned with the effort. "Can't you call up a wind or something to boost us?" She eyed one of the large brown birds of prey that flew overhead with ease, wishing she could fly to wherever it was the map was taking them.

Hopefully they weren't just wandering aimlessly.

Caval gave one of his brilliant smiles, "Sounds wasteful."

"Probably," Blayre agreed. And it probably wouldn't affect me anyway. Unless he manipulated something else. But such manipulations required a considerable amount of magic, and were were only allowed during training or in times of war.

"Have you ever used that kind of magic without permission?" Blayre asked, moving sideways down a short steep dip in the path.

"Are you trying to trick me into admitting a crime to you, Seeker?" Caval asked as he picked his way down the path. He was surprisingly athletic for a scholar. A flash of memory at his shirtless and considerably toned upper half appeared in her mind.

Blayre snorted, "As if admitting to being part of a rebellion wasn't enough."

She could only see the back of his head, but pictured the smirk that must be lighting his face.

"The answer is yes. Though - not to great extents. And typically the things that one does when one is training under Crown Sorcerer Conal are never considered illegal - even if they are."

The two of them had reached the bottom of the incline and Caval paused "You need a break." He said.

Blayre wanted to argue, but she was breathless and panting. The summer heat was still reaching them in the shade of the mountain forest, and bugs flitted around them. Not landing on them since Caval had put charms on their clothing and packs to ward off the pests, but close enough that Blayre had to resist the urge to swat at them.

She followed Caval's lead and sat beside him on a rock, pulling out her water flask to take a sip. They had just refilled at a stream they'd crossed over hours before.

"I think, if my father had exposed me to these parts of the mountain, I would have liked it more." Blayre mused, taking another sip of water.

Caval offered her a piece of dried meat and she accepted. "I think you blossom wherever you are placed." He said.

She could feel herself blushing- even though it was such a normal Caval thing to say.

"I haven't forgotten that time in Port Roubeles. I never did get to take you sailing."

"Instead you have taken me dragon hunting. For dead dragons, but dragons nonetheless." She patted his thigh, which was pressed up against hers where they sat. "Which reminds me - we should probably keep moving."

****

The daylight was waning, and Blayre, fatigued to the point of stumbling, was about to ask Caval when they could finally stop to make camp, when the sorcerer stopped ahead of her and placed a warning finger to his lips. He motioned for her to duck down, and the pair moved off the side of the overgrown path and ducked as quietly as they could into the underbrush, Blayre's tired legs barking in protest.

Caval led her further into the forest from the path, and Blayre felt Caval send out a burst of magic to muffle the sound of their movement through the brush. Blayre had enough training to know how to move through the woods quietly, but as sore as she was, she wasn't overly confident in her current abilities to remain silent.

"Someone's up ahead," he whispered, barely audible.

Well she'd figured out that much. Though she couldn't sense any magic use coming from them. They weren't spilling magic everywhere like the Unmarked rebels tended to do, so either there were experienced mages with them who weren't using anything, or they were a group of magicless individuals.

Blayre reached out and tapped Caval on the back. "What do we do?" she whispered. "I think we should figure out who they are. Otherwise this," she motioned to the heavy undergrowth all around them, "Is not the most efficient way to get to where we are going. What if they're harmless?"

Caval said nothing but nodded and waved her on.

Curiosity killed the cat. Blayre thought, heading toward the noise of the travelling party. But it hasn't killed me yet.

They traveled along for an indeterminable amount of time, but eventually the light was beginning to wane casting an ominous golden glow and shadows all around them. Blayre had taken the lead, and when she realized the group had stopped moving, she halted abruptly sending Caval careening into her from behind and knocking them both to the ground.

"Sorry," She whispered.

He snorted softly. "Thank god for magic."

"I bet they're setting up camp. I'm going to move closer once the sun goes down."

Shrouded in darkness, Blayre worked her way slowly and quietly toward the group. She could smell the smoke from their recently started fire, and her mouth watered at the scent of freshly caught meat beginning to roast.

She hoped these people could be friends.

Finally, Blayre was close enough to make out the faces and forms of the people in the firelight. There were three of them. Two men, standing to the left and one to the right of the fire, and one woman - shapely with a long dark braid down her back. All wore practical leathers - good for keeping out the damp, as well as preventing scrapes from all the rocks and trees that made moving through this area so challenging. Their skin was a dark golden-brown, but she couldn't make out facial features in the dim lighting.

She was about to turn back to return to Caval with her observations when the woman suddenly turned: "Who is there?"   

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