Chapter 24 - An evening chat

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I am doing this new thing where I try to add chapter titles and pictures. This was kind of a transitional chapter, and I must have cursed a zillion times while writing it. I am still  not completely satisfied with it. (Way to sell it, Filo.)

Phyllis

Marcus was fine. The first wave of relief that hit her washed away quickly when the second struck, warning her that apart from physically, he wasn't. Not at all. Neither of them were even remotely okay.

And it was her job to make it better.

Marcus was still at the door, measuring up the room. If it had been any other day, she'd have cut the strings of tension that decorated wall to wall with some snide remarks.

Today, she just extended her hand.

Marcus let the door close behind him, holding it back with his fingertips to prevent it from slamming shut. He answered her gesture by pulling her close for a moment. But he let her go again rather quickly, addressing Cornelis first:

"I am sorry. Going to that village on my own was dangerous. I expected the Centuria to be at my heels, but it was not, and that could have cost us our lives. It would have, if not for you. I am sorry."

Marcus's apology sounded dead sincere and he looked at Cornelis the entire time he spoke. Cornelis looked back at him in stony silence. Marcus had already said sorry twice, there was little more he could do, and she saw him hesitate as the silence stretched. Because he stood right in between the two beds, and Cornelis sat on one of them, Marcus towered over him. Poor Marcus. He adored anyone that leant him a hand. Cornelis had done a lot more, but it had hardly been for Marcus's sake.

Yet he almost fell to his knees in gratitude.

He didn't. Of course not. Part of him wanted to though, and Cornelis had to be blinder than Raghnall not to see it. But maybe he did. Maybe silence was just the best Marcus could hope for from him.

Being who he was, of course he hoped for more. Marcus hadn't recovered from his earlier shock. She could read him like an open book today. Eventually she told him to sit down.

Once he had settled next to her, she whacked him over the head. Marcus awkwardly rubbed the back of his head.

"I know Phyl, I know. I thought....well, I told you. But they went straight for Mesmer instead. Which is their assignment really. I misjudged. Luckily Biancus clarified that before I talked to Quintus."

"Look who has been talked back into obedience," Cornelis said.

Marcus's eyes shot up at him at once.

"You were livid when you went to them two hours ago," Cornelis went on. "But now you are back to being their little puppet."

Cornelis didn't really need his strength. He could deal deathly blows with mere words. She felt Marcus tense beside her. But he swallowed the taunt without defending himself.

Time to change the subject.

"We told Bonny what happened, apart from being attacked by those Picts. She knows we were in the village. Cornelis said the boats looked Pictish, so she has an idea." Phyllis hesitated. "But Quintus doesn't."

Marcus shook his head. "He does. I told him the same. About the boats."

"So what happens now?" Phyllis asked. "They were scouting the area. They could return. They could find Mesmer."

She noticed Marcus glanced at Cornelis once more before he answered: "There will be patrols at the cliffs. It will allow us to spot incoming boats. We have not received word of nearby attacks, so it is possible this is an isolated event."

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