For Deusetats

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After a scarce two weeks in Breg, Tancred led the army away again, its ranks now swelled by folk from the capital and the outlying Teuta territories. A day's ride south took them to the border of Ernberg territory, where they made camp for the night.

While everyone else prepared for sleep, the advance guard prepared to ride on through the night. Rainhart ate a quick supper, still in his riding leathers, and went looking for Philomena. Briga trotted beside him. He could sense her pleasure at being back in the country. She liked loping along beside his horse, scrapping with the other hunting dogs.

He found Philomena standing at the edge of camp, arms wrapped around herself. She turned when she heard his footfalls."When do you ride out again?"

"Within the hour," said Rainhart. "Could I speak with you a moment?"

Philomena cocked her head. "Every time we start a conversation like that, you end up being insufferably rude and making me so angry I can barely look at you. Given you are about to ride into serious--" She stuttered to a halt, "--into serious danger, I would prefer to be able to think kindly of you at our parting." She tightened her arms around her body. "So if there's anything you wish to say to me, save it until everything is done and we are safe."

Rainhart digested this in silence. "I cannot say that this is unfair," he said quietly. "I will hold my tongue for now."

Philomena nodded. Rainhart longed to reach out and take her hand, but there was some distance between them he didn't dare bridge. "I had better go and check on Holle." 

"Are you sure that it's--she's--safe?" asked Philomena.

Rainhart chewed on his bottom lip. "She's my sister," he said.

"Fair enough." Philomena shook herself and followed him back through the camp. "Only twenty of you?" She studied the troop with a frown. Holle was standing by her horse's head dressed in brown leather riding gear, her hair braided and tucked into a cap. Even without her velvets and gilding, it was as if the torchlight was brighter around her than in the rest of the clearing.

"Our job is to see and be unseen," said Rainhart. "Besides, between Holle and me we should be able to keep everyone out of danger." 

Tancred, Konrad and Cassius came out of the command tent to see them off. "Ride safely, cousins," said Tancred, putting his hand on Rainhart's shoulder, then taking Holle's hand.

"Thank you, your majesty." Rainhart turned and went over to his horse, taking the reins from a groom. "You may have every confidence that we will keep the area clear of Cimbra attackers." Briga galloped after him and butted him in the thigh. 

"No, Briga, stay," he said.

Briga ignored him, positioning herself alongside his horse and watching him as if to say, Well, come on, what's the delay?

"Briga," he said hoarsely. "No."

Philomena came forward and took hold of Briga's leather collar. "Come on," she said, "Come and stand with me." At first, Briga didn't budge. But then, the meaning of Philomena's tugging at her collar penetrated and she began to whine.

"Don't cry," said Rainhart, crouching down. "I will see you soon." He stood and mounted the horse, trying to ignore the waves of distress coming from the hound. "Her mind is full of my abandonment," he said, not looking down.

"I'll keep her safe," said Philomena.

"Thank you." While Philomena held Briga back, Rainhart nudged his horse's side and went to the head of the advance guard, where Holle was waiting for him. They rode away into the night. When he could no longer see the hound, he could hear her, and when he could no longer hear her he could still feel the pinprick of her unhappiness in his mind.

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