Underneath it all, we're just savages

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Pressure in my lower back flares up every time the ground slopes. I do everything I can to hide the pain from George but he knows it's there.

"Let's stop," he says, when the sun disappears beneath the horizon. "We can hide and wait out the night."

I nod, not trusting my voice, and follow him further down the road. I expect to turn left, into the forest, but he takes us down a sleepy high-street.

"George—"

"I'm not making you sleep outside," he says, eyes pausing on my back like he can see where it hurts. "Wait out here. I'll find a room."

He slides from his horse's back, doing well to hide how sore his legs are, and hands me the reigns. If I stand, I'll never get back up. I lean low over my horse's neck, giving in to the weakness in my back, and hide my face in his dark mane.

George returns before I can worry. He takes the reigns from my hands, fingers rough and warm against mine, and helps me down. I've slept the last five nights on the floor, hiding so he could pass off another's death as my own, and we've been in saddle since midday—

"I have you," he murmurs, arm slipping around my burning back when I stagger. "Steady, Matthew."

I groan and stretch my neck, stepping away from him before anyone sees. He understands just in time for our horses to be taken to the inn stables.

"We'll be safe for a few hours," George whispers, holding the door for me.

I wait until we're alone in a locked room with twin beds before I reply.

A week of stress, feigned mourning, and a day riding under the sun have dusted George's skin with a sweet layer of sweat and dirt. I throw a nervous glance at the door and push my fingers into his hair, pulling his forehead to mine. We're so close I think I can hear his thoughts.

We take one, two breaths together before commotion on the other side of our door separates us. I'm so tired I almost cry; George stands up straight and puts his hand to the knife at his waist, eyes hot.

I keep my distance.

He unlocks the door and throws it open, stepping out into the hallway. The door shuts behind him, shielding me from something terrible. A stranger barks my name, proclaiming I'm the dead prince, and George coolly replies that our intruder must be drunk.

There's a scuffle. Heavy footsteps on floorboards, the beat of flesh against flesh, and a thud that trembles through the foundations of the inn.

George dips back into our room, hands behind his back, and grimaces.

"Lock the door," he whispers. "I will be back in a moment."

I nod and let him go.

I know him enough to know what happened, and I love him enough to trust him to keep us safe—whatever it takes.


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