As far as Eoin was concerned, keeping an eye on a wandering crowd of two hundred people, was about the same as watching over a toddler. The crowd weaved back and forth, teetered, and generally did all the things that a grown child would never think to do. It babbled nonsense, testing the sound of its own voice, and living in its own little world. It stopped and started, fell backward and fell forward, as if it were still learning the use of its feet. Sometimes, it scrunched together, collided with itself, as if it had not yet figured out that it was all one piece.
Sitting on the hill, Eoin watched, the dark body of his horse tucked into the shadow of the hill to keep him out of sight. He would have preferred to stay in the sunlight, soak in the warmth where he could, but he’d agreed with Tiernan when he said it was better to keep hidden. And somehow, it was more entertaining, imagining himself a spy for children.
Beside him, Danta leaned back in his saddle. The leather creaked, as if it had been still too long. Eoin glanced over and Danta gave him a bored, unimpressed look. Some days, Eoin thought that he was barely more than a toddler too, the way he ran from one place to another. He couldn’t have realized how much sitting this patrol would involve, or he wouldn’t have volunteered.
“Who do you think they are?” Danta asked.
Eoin considered the small mob that had emerged from the southern trees quickly, and shook his head. “More keimon. No one seems worried by it.”
“They’re running differently,” Danta said. His eyebrows were bent together, bored, and tired of being bored. “Look. They have a perimeter guard.”
Eoin nodded slowly. That bothered him too. But the guard was made up of men and women on horseback, in simple coats, breeches and boots. It wasn’t any kind of uniform, though he couldn’t shake the feeling that they’d all bought them in the same place.
“It might be a good thing,” Eoin said, with a slanted smile. “If they can protect themselves, they don’t need us, and we can go home.”
Danta looked at him sideways, eyebrow sinking lower, as he tried to read if Eoin was joking.
“You think they just appointed their own guard?” he said.
Eoin considered saying yes. It was a pretty thought, that they’d picked their strongest to protect them as they moved into unknown territory. But it had barely been two weeks, and guards might be chosen in that time, but he doubted they would ride that smoothly together with so little time side by side. “Not really,” he said on a slow exhale.
“Should we get closer?” Danta asked.
Eoin looked at him, eyebrows raised. “Closer?” he asked.
“Yes,” Danta said. “So we can find out what they’re doing.”
“Or,” Eoin said. “We could just sit here. Wait for our answers without doing any damage.”
Danta’s mouth turned down as if Eoin had just offered him something sour. He resettled in his seat and looked away.
Eoin looked down at the crowd again, smiling, shaking his head.
“So, this is what we’re doing?” Danta said. “Just watching them go the same way we’re going? Waiting around for them and hiding out?”
“Guardian spirits of the high hills,” Eoin murmured. He couldn’t hear the wagon rumble from where he was, but he could imagine it easily enough, watching them bounce along the field below.
“That’s not the kind of spirits they usually call you and your brothers,” Danta murmured.
Eoin grinned, impressed that he’d said it out loud. “No?” he said. He looked at him sideways, daring him to say more.
“You’re the Warlords,” Danta said.
Eoin shook his head, slow. “Those were our grandfathers.”
“You’ve gone to war, too,” Danta said.
He spoke quick, and Eoin turned toward him, catching every syllable with a steady gaze. “Barely,” Eoin told him.
“Your brothers spent years on the borders,” Danta said.
Eoin nodded. “Too many,” he said.
“They terrified the enemy,” Danta said.
“You should have seen what they did to me when we were kids,” Eoin said.
“They said they were like human stars, avalanches of fire, oceans of heat, the pair of them great enough to crush armies,” Danta said.
“I think I know the tune to that one,” Eoin said. He tilted his head. “I could whistle it, but that kind of exaggeration really sounds better on something with strings. More credible.”
“It wasn’t all exaggeration,” Danta said. He met Eoin’s eye, fiercely. “I’ve seen you and Tiernan at practice.”
Eoin leaned back before he nodded. “Not all of it,” he conceded.
“So, why don’t we just ride down there?” Danta asked. He spread his hand toward the valley. “They have to have heard the stories about you, too. You could ride in, sweep by, and they’d run after you to to Oruasta. It would go a lot faster than this.”
“I didn’t know you were so eager to get home,” Eoin said.
“What’s the point of hiding from people who would kiss your feet if you walked by?” Danta demanded.
“We’re not hiding from them,” Eoin said.
“There’s no one else here,” Danta pointed out.
“There are kings here.”
Danta laughed. “Where?” he asked.
“We’re riding their land,” Eoin told him. “They’re here.”
“You’re hiding from the invisible eyes in the air?” Danta said, incredulous.
“This isn’t our home,” Eoin told him.
“How does that matter?” Danta demanded. “You’re not setting up rule, you’re just riding out of here with everyone else that wants to leave.”
Eoin faced him immediately. “Because we terrified them.”