Chapter 42 - Homebound

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Marcus's head throbbed with a vengeance when he woke up. His neck felt cramped because his pillow was too firm and high to be even remotely comfortable.  But he was utterly amazed that it was still there. The warmth of Cornelis's chest against his cheek was slightly intoxicating.

He hoisted himself upright, moist leaves clinging to his lower arms, and took a moment to ponder how he felt about practically having thrown himself on Cornelis last night.

The moment became decidedly more awkward when he realized Cornelis was in fact wide awake and studying him through light lashes. Marcus imagined his hair was a shade fairer too than when they had parted a few weeks ago.

"You're still here," Marcus said.

Cornelis didn't point out that he was stating the obvious, indicating that he most definitely wasn't back to his former self. If Marcus had ever seen Cornelis's former self. That realization came to him with a jolt. None of Cornelis's behaviour had made much sense to him during their time together at Mesmer. Hopefully that would change.

"Where would I go?" Cornelis asked.

Marcus didn't know the answer to that, but he did know where the three of them were supposed to go. They needed to get back to Mesmer. Caitir knew he would run into trouble going after Phyllis. She knew the risk of him bring trouble back. They needed to go home.

"Where's Phyllis," Marcus asked. He glanced at the wood stick shelter that he had left her in last night, and found his cloak abandoned on the ground.

"She was gone when I woke up," Cornelis replied.

Marcus rose to his feet, wobbling a bit as he took some steps towards the shelter. Very annoying, that was. He doubted Phyllis would be of much healing help. He was surprised she was even awake.

"We have to go and find her," he announced, but Cornelis shook his head.

"You have a concussion," he pointed out. "She'll come back."

Marcus wanted to argue the certainty of that statement, but Cornelis pointed towards their horses, all three of them quietly huddled together, and realized it was rock solid. Phyllis would never leave Goliath behind.

"Nevertheless it might be a good idea if I talk to her first," he said.

Cornelis took a breath and looked away from him. He stood up as well, and sniffed the morning air.

"She made a fire," he declared.

Well that wasn't good. The smell of burnt wood was undeniable, and Cornelis squinted his eyes, pointing towards the creek a moment later.

"Prepare the horses," Marcus said. "We shouldn't linger here."

Cornelis's eyes flashed to his face, rage evident at the command, and as he stepped closer, last night seemed a lifetime away. Marcus had to keep himself from taking a step back.

"Sorry," he said. "Force of habit."

Cornelis shook his head in dismay. And though the apology seemed to suffice for now, Marcus immediately realized just how much of a challenge travelling together was going to be. Without even counting Phyllis.


He found her poking the smouldering remains of a fire, a little further down the narrow creek Cornelis had directed him to.

"We aren't supposed to call any attention to ourselves. We want to be inconspicuous," he said, keeping his tone gentle. Phyllis looked up at him, yesterday's colourful dirt-smudged tunic replaced with a darker one. Her green cape was spread around her like bat wings, and Marcus noticed how it served to keep the fire's lingering warmth close, despite the rising temperature. She wasn't out of the woods yet.

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