Chapter 19

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My battered body is permitted barely a day to heal before Luca and I put the camp to our backs and depart for Babel.

Our journey is made long and strange by the necessity of walking. For once I don't mind the slow pace and allow myself to enjoy this in between. Out here I am free of expectations, of worry and of the inevitable march of time. We rest often, at Luca's insistence and I get the impression that he isn't eager to arrive, either.

I watch Luca busy himself preparing our meal while I change one of my dressings. For the thousandth time, I consider bringing up the fight with Jaron. Words gather on my tongue, jumbling together into a haphazard mess. I clench my lips shut tight as I try to concentrate on changing the bandage wrapped around my bruised ribs. My fingers turn clumsy and I have to bind and re-bind the dressing several times, adding to my frustration. I know that Luca's intervention in the fight prevented Jaron from beating me to a pulp, yet I can't figure out what I owe him in return. An apology? Thanks? An all-out brawl? None of the options seem to fit and so I take the coward's route, and stay silent.

"What is it?" Luca comes to sit beside me, handing over the leg of some rodent we scared up earlier that day.

"Hmm?" I am jerked free of my thoughts and now stare confused at his offering while pulling down my tunic.

Luca hands over the food and settles himself comfortably, stretching out across the blistering sand and appearing completely at home.

"There is something on your mind." He states, watching me sidelong. "Do you wish to tell me?"

"You're forgetting to combine your words, again." I remind him, dodging his question. "You have to say there's, not there is."

"There's something on your mind." Luca's exaggerated drawl causes me to snort with laughter.

Shaking my head, I remark offhandedly, "You know, it makes me a bit sad when I hear you speak differently. I always liked the way you talk."

"Why's that?"

"I just found your way to be so... what's the word..."

"Stimulating?"

"Perhaps sometimes." I wrinkle my nose in thought. "Quaint?"

"Quaint?" He feigns offense. "Remind me, again why I take language lessons from you. I am a savage but even I understand that word is archaic."

I kick some sand at him as he grins and shields himself. We lapse into a companionable silence, both of us picking at our meal in order to draw out it's measly offering.

"I was just thinking..." I trail off, studying the piece of bone left in my hand. Words fail me once again and I buy myself some time by wiping my hand on my thigh.

Luca waits for me to finish my fidgeting, ever unhurried.

"I was thinking... thinking that... gods." I stop fighting. "I don't know what I was thinking back in the camp."

"You and Jaron are so alike." Luca ponders aloud. "It's no wonder that you get under one another's skin."

I frown, annoyed at the observation until I begin to consider it. The possibility that there is something of myself reflected in the battle-hungry former chieftain is an idea as intriguing as it is troubling.

"In any case," I press on, "You shouldn't have been put in the position of having to tear us apart. I let my selfishness get the best of me. Again."

"You did warn me." Luca says slowly. "You said that if he pushed you, that you would stand against him." Sighing through his nose. "And push, he did."

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