Chapter 41 - Breakdown

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The result of Fionnan's and Brenna's building skills provided shelter for them to let Phyllis rest. Half the day's ride along, Marcus had hoisted her onto Patroclus behind him and she had slumped against his back, barely still conscious. Cornelis had probed her into having some water, and he was glad, because she was fast asleep the moment Patroclus halted, sliding sideward until Cornelis caught her and waited for Marcus to dismount.

Which he did rather stiffly, his arms no doubt sore from steadying her for hours, while steering his rather fidgety stallion at the same time. The horse seemed to sense the urgency in their journey though, since he was considerably more reliable than he had been during the attack on Mesmer's coasts.

"There is food in my saddle bags," Marcus told him. He gave Cornelis an inquisitive glance, which reminded him of the blow he had dealt Marcus earlier today, almost forgotten in the rush of catastrophic events that followed. The outer side of his right eyebrow down to his cheekbone sprouted an ugly dark bruise, and his eyelid looked swollen. Dark spots of dried blood, Connor's blood, littered his leather-clad chest. Marcus must have noticed he was staring at that, because he turned rather abruptly, and headed for the makeshift hut.

Cornelis took care of the horses while Marcus set up camp for as far as they could without lighting a fire. He watched how Marcus tried to feed Phyllis some water again, in vain. Eventually Marcus unclasped the brooch that held up Phyllis's green travel cloak and folded it underneath her head for a pillow, before using his own cloak to tuck her in.

Phyllis didn't notice. She didn't move, she didn't make a sound and Cornelis envied her ability to be fast asleep. His own thoughts played out every scenario he could imagine about how the Centuriae would handle their blatantly magical escape, and how Abhan would be treated in the aftermath. Better to torture himself this way, than to drift back to the horrendous feel of his own sword cracking it's way through Raghnall's chest, and Connor's gurgling last breaths. He had to block out those thoughts, and he'd rather suffer over fear than unchangeable truth.

The night was clear and he didn't bother setting up another shelter. He didn't bother going near the both of them, and he was completely startled when Marcus plopped down beside him, his back against Cornelis's, their shoulder blades touching. He had removed the leather armour, and Cornelis felt Marcus fumble as he stretched and flexed his arms to loosen them up again.

"Do you still have some of those biscuits?" Marcus asked, and Cornelis handed him the bag. It was typical army food, hardtack biscuits and dried bacon. Marcus had stocked up, but between the three of them, it wouldn't keep them fed for long.

Cornelis kept his face fixed straight ahead while Marcus munched away. Pitch-dark, the night gave him nothing else to focus on, and Marcus proved a welcome distraction by, as always, acting unpredictable. Phyllis lay firmly wrapped in Marcus's red woollen cloak. Marcus himself wore only his  red tunic and calf-length pants. He shivered slightly, Cornelis noticed. Exhaustion combined with the evening fog that seeped through their trousers from the moist grass made the evening feel fittingly chilly.

"At least it is summer," Cornelis mumbled. It would take a while before they had to add the cold to their considerable list of problems.  Hardly a difference, really, but Marcus let his head fall back against Cornelis' shoulders, sniggering. Cornelis sighed. He felt ridiculously grateful over Marcus not abandoning him to his thoughts, but he was a long way from even the slightest cheery sentiment.

"At least I can do this now," Marcus offered. Cornelis could practically feel him smirk. Marcus's glee radiated from him, creating a sharp contrast with his own emotions. He shook his head in dismay.

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