Chapter Fifty-Six

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The first thing Guin saw when she opened her eyes was Lorn's thin, troubled face. He was curled into a fetal position, knees and elbows pressed against her side, on hand padding his head while the other clutched the loose end of Guin's tunic.

Guin blinked, wondering why and how he'd come to be there. For a moment, in the warm dawn light, he looked like a young child. Then Guin blinked, rubbed her eyes and looked again. Now he seemed older than he was, pale and worn out. Traces of dried tears streaked his cheeks, and his jaw continually flexed, as if he were chewing something tough and bitter in his sleep. 

As gently as possible, Guin reached out and shook his shoulder. "Lorn?"

He stirred, but didn't wake. Mumbling something she couldn't quiet catch, he nestled deeper into the crushed grass.

Guin sighed, then shook him again, firmer this time. Waking Lorn up seemed almost cruel at this point--but they had to get moving. She could hear the others already up and about, bustling quietly about their makeshift camp. 

"Hey, Lorn," she said, leaning closer and squeezing his arm. "Time to get up."

After a moment, he cracked open one eye and said in a voice thick with sleep and hoarse from weeping, "Imknow. Jus'd'wanna."

"Me neither," Guin admitted. "But you gotta."

Lorn let out a deep, weary sigh--then seemed to suddenly become aware that they were basically cuddling. He recoiled, releasing his hold on her tunic and sitting up in one quick movement.

"I--I'm sorry," he stammered. "Didn't mean--must have been asleep--"

"Yeah, you were probably sleepwalking," Guin said, sitting up and wincing at the stiffness in her back. "I used to do that when I was little. Kept crawling into in Evey's bed whenever I had a bad nightmare."

Lorn opened and closed his mouth a few times, then nodded. "Yes. Sleepwalking." He rubbed the back of his neck and stared at the ground. "I apologize. It won't happen again."

I didn't really mind, Guin thought--then wondered why she'd thought it, and promptly decided not to pursue that line of introspection. Instead, she stood up, still absently massaging her sore lower back, and looked around.  

The sun was climbing steadily into the misty morning, setting each crimson flower aglow until it seemed the Fields of Avain danced with rubies. Droom, Mogra and Kip were busy tidying away the remnants of their camp. Talon and Zolga stood by the jagged boulder, staring balefully down at the silver cocoon that was Thesul. 

Leaving Lorn to rub the dried tears and sleep from his eyes, Guin limped over to join the two women. "Did he do anything while I was asleep?"

"Hasn't moved an inch," Zolga said, her upper lip twisting into a grimace as she spoke. "We're wondering' what we should do with him, now that we've got to get moving again. I don't fancy haulin' him all the way to Diavarda on our backs."

"Hm. Yeah, I can see that," Guin said, frowning down at the inert bundle and trying to ignore the cold lump of revulsion and dread solidifying in her stomach.  

To her right, Talon snorted. "And I think we all know who'll end up carrying him if that happens."

Zolga cracked a wry smile. "Can't help that I'm an old woman, Captain. Besides, I swore a long time ago I'd never lay hands on this smear o'pitslick again."

"And I swore at the age of fourteen never to let another member of the Alavardian court touch me again so long as I live," Talon shot back. "So that leaves the Delvers and your nephew."

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