An Ending

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There were scarcely ten people in the clearing, lit by torches and the first hints of dawn light. Rainhart looked around at their faces. Philomena beside him. Tancred and Holle opposite. Holle was all pale angles, and leaned on a cane. Lord Cassius and a handful of Jovani legionaries.

Rainhart looked back at the turned earth in the centre of the circle.

He remembered Cervin's annoyance at being saddled with three frightened young Deusetatsi, and his clear fondness and respect for Lord Valentin. And he remembered Cervin gasping black powder, holding his guts in, his face pinched with pain.

Swallowing, Rainhart looked down at his hands.

"He will sleep cradled in the lesser gods' arms," said Tancred. "Among friends."

Lord Cassius nodded. "I will tell my brother that Cervin was held in high regard and laid to rest with great respect," he said. He added, "And that Valdon has been dealt with."

"Please give Lord Valentin this," said Philomena, holding out a darkwood cuff. Cervin's.

Cassius studied her outstretched hand. "My dear niece, I believe both my brother and Cervin would wish for you to keep it."

"It's far too big for me," said Philomena. "You--could it be taken home to his family?"

Rainhart had a flash of the memories he had stumbled into when his mind had been tangled with Cervin's. "If... you think Lord Valentin would not mind, it would be my honour to wear Cervin's darkwood," he said.

"I have no objections," said Lord Cassius, "and will vouch the same for Valentin."

"Thank you," said Rainhart. Philomena looked at him doubtfully through her lashes as she handed him the cuff. Pulling off one glove, Rainhart slid the cuff over his wrist. It settled against his skin and he felt the forest's approval.

As they began to walk back to the horses, Rainhart said, "I don't... I don't think Cervin had any family."

"Oh, I see," said Philomena. "He saved my life many times, and I knew so little about him."

Holle caught up with them, and Rainhart said, "I see I'm not the only one acquiring darkwood charms," and gestured with his chin to her cane.

"Well, nobody else claimed it," said Holle, "and Valdon wasn't using it anymore, after all."

"True enough."

They rode back to Traumwald. Cassius caught him and said, "I have instructed the legionaries to be ready to move out in an hour. I'm sorry--I hope that is long enough."

Wordlessly, Rainhart nodded. His belongings were all packed, and attendants would have put them in the baggage train by now. He passed the patch of compressed earth where the tent he had shared with Lord Cassius stood. No need for that anymore. He went and found the Reuz men who had ridden with him into Breg and into Traumwald to thank them.

"Begging your pardon, your highness," said one of the men. He looked to be in his early twenties, with a thatch of brown hair and broad shoulders. Rainhart recognised him from the attack on the Traumwald gatehouse. "But are any Reuz men going with you to Jovan?"

"I--no." Rainhart frowned.

"Doesn't seem right," said the man, turning behind him to pick up his sword belt.

"I will not be in need of guarding," said Rainhart.

"No," the man drew out the vowel, "but you're a prince, and a prince should have his own men about him. At any rate, if you wished for it, my pal Adar and I would be honoured to guard you."

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