Friday Serial: Farther Part CV

Seryn fire_handSERYN

Macsen found Seryn in the morning. The sun was barely up, and she hadn’t put her boots on yet, but he strode through the hall to put a firm hand on her shoulder.

“Come with me,” he said.

Ignoring the rest of the guard where they sat on the side of their cots, he turned on his heel to leave again.

Seryn followed him out, footsteps echoing dully in the wide space between the walls. There were few other people moving in the gray light – a few loading breakfast over already healthy fires, and a few more settling their clothes and minds for a new day – and she looked at none of them. Eyes on Macsen’s back she kept stride with him out into the yard, around the corner of the main hall, straight to his office.

He struck a match sharply and lit the lamp on the wall with steady hands. Seryn shut the door to keep out the morning chill. Macsen sat behind his desk and waved for her to take the chair across from him.

“How much did you know?” he asked before she could cross the room.

She took her next step more slowly, sank into the chair holding his eye carefully.

“About Aled and the others?” she asked.

Macsen nodded, eyebrows raised in mock appreciation for her quickness. “You made him second under you here. You had to have noticed something.”

Seryn pulled in a breath, and looked sideways at the wall. “He said he wanted to leave. I told him the best place for us was here.”

“He seems less than convinced,” Macsen said. “Celyn? Mari? Gareth? Did they tell you the same thing?”

Seryn shook her head.

“Why did they leave?” Macsen asked.

“I didn’t know about any of them,” Seryn said.

Macsen eyed her, quiet.

Seryn blinked, and held her eyes shut for a moment too long. “They would have been idiots to say anything in front of me,” she said. She met his eye, carefully wetting her lips. “And you didn’t train idiots.”

He gave her half a laugh, still quiet. “Would they have?” he murmured. “You let Aled go.”

Seryn curled her hand into a fist against her knee.

Macsen shook his head and smiled to himself. He put his elbows on his desk, and ran one hand over his face, as if he had remembered how early it was and was trying to wake himself up. Then he turned his smile on her. “Relax,” he said. “I don’t doubt you. But what I hear is that any of the others could be ready to take a shot at us as well.”

Seryn shook her head. “I doubt it.”

“And you suspected the others?”

Seryn paused. Then she shook her head again.

“Go,” Macsen said, nodding her toward the door. “Get yourself something to eat. You look like you need it. And send Gan to me.”

Seryn stayed in her. “You mean to talk to all of them.”

He nodded, though she hadn’t need an answer.

“Maybe you could give us time first,” Seryn said. “We have friends to bury.”

Macsen’s eyes narrowed immediately, and his mouth opened around a question moments before he spoke it. “We buried our dead yesterday.”

Seryn lifted his chin to look at him. “Tes and Lowri died in the night.”

He watched her face for a long moment. She blinked back at him, letting him read whatever was there. They were dead, and she could feel the bite of it. Every muscle in her already ached from the battle, and her thigh was too-hot and too-tight inside its bandage. She wasn’t numb, but it was hard to feel all the pains separately and she had already pushed the heavy blanket of them into the background.

“I’ll give you time later,” Macsen told her. “Send me Gan. Keep the others in the hall.”

Nodding, she left.

In the shadows of the main hall, she tapped Gan on the shoulder, collecting him as Macsen had collected her. She nodded toward the main door.

“Macsen called for you,” she said.

He looked at her tiredly, then stood and followed orders.

He was back inside half an hour, and sent Emyr in his place. Emyr came and went and traded places with Reese. Reese traded with Rhian, Rhian with Wynn, Wynn with Carys. One at a time, they disappeared, and the rest of them sat in something like silence, speaking nothings as they chewed through a thin breakfast. Seryn watched her plate, and tried not to imagine what answers they were giving Macsen. The rest watched each other.

When Carys came back, the hall was noisy enough to cover her steps. She approached the table slowly, turned backward and sank onto the bench beside Seryn with her elbows propped behind her.

“Macsen wants to see you again,” she said, voice low.

Seryn glanced at Emyr, then at Reese, wondering if they were close enough to hear her. It didn’t seem to matter. All six of them sat stiffly in their seats, or too loosely, wary as they glanced at each other. When they thought the others weren’t, they met Seryn’s eye. They knew she would be the one to come back with orders. With judgements.

Seryn’s stomach twisted. She trusted every one of them.

Her thigh ached.

She pushed her plate toward the center of the table and stood. It only took her a moment to wind her way out of the hall, and back to Macsen’s office. She found him standing, shuffling through fresh reports. Some of the ink had smeared onto his fingers.

“Commander Jeyd wants to send you out to see if you can track down how far the Warlord has run,” he told her without preamble. “I told him you were good for it.”

Seryn nodded.

“Take Wynn, Carys, Emyr, and Gan with you,” Macsen said.

“Not Reese?” Seryn asked.

Macsen looked at her and shook his head. Holding her eye long enough for her to feel the weight of his silence, he turned back to his papers. Then he dismissed her.

Seryn returned to the hall for the others. She sent Rhian to open the door for the children. They would stay inside for the day, but there was plenty of space inside the hall for them to run. Seryn told the others to pack their saddlebags for the day. Saddle their horses. She would meet them in the stable.

Reese froze when she didn’t call his name.

Quickly, Seryn jerked her head for the others to move. Then she swung around the table to face Reese. She grabbed him by front of his jacket when he tried to move away. Her fingers locked, but she didn’t do more than stop him from running.

“What did you say?” she whispered.

He shook his head.

“Hey.” She shook him, just enough to draw his eye up to hers. “What did you say?”

“Nothing,” he said. “I swear.”

“Something came out of your mouth that Macsen didn’t like,” Seryn insisted. “Tell me.”

“I just…” He looked away, bit his lip, leaned back but didn’t manage to get out of her grip. “Tomi told me. Tomi told me she was going to get out of here. I didn’t know she was going to do that. But I believed her. And she asked me to go with her.”

Seryn blinked. He bit his lip, and his mouth twisted. He looked back at her and swallowed hard.

“You said no,” Seryn murmured.

He nodded instantly.

Seryn looked to the door, around the rest of the hall, then dragged Reese closer with a hand at the back of his neck. Fiercely, she held his eye. “You keep your head down,” she ordered. “We’ll be gone for hours. You stay here, and you do absolutely nothing. Don’t even give them a reason to look at you until I get back. Do you understand?”

He nodded again.

“There’s too few of us now,” Seryn said.

He gripped her wrist, squeezed tight.

“Head down,” she said, pushed him away, and moved out of the hall on quick feet.


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