In the numbing gray light after sunset, Eytan chose their hiding place. The shadows of the trees lay long and black on the ground as he trudged between them, then faded into nothing within a few minutes. The sky, visible as a winding path between the leaves above him, lost its color more gradually. The dark crept in from one horizon while the other was still washed in gleaming ivory. The chill crept in just as slowly. The breeze, made bold by the sun’s disappearing, combed cool air in behind him.
For a few minutes, he rested in a copse of trees. He buttoned his coat and pulled the back of his collar up against his neck. He retied every knot that held his pack tight to his back. He took his sword off his hip and tied it to the underside of the bundle to center the weight along his spine. Glancing around, he considered the bread of the trees and the space between their trunks. He calculated the value of sleeping somewhere like this, where every sound around him cut clearly and there was room to run in every direction.
Then he picked Riva up and continued on.
The trees maintained their scattered presence for forty yards before grudgingly shouldering in toward each other. Soft grass faded to soft dirt in the sparse woods. The trunks of the trees thickened and the air turned wetter and sweeter. The old leaves were rotting, idly, with the day’s sun and the night’s fresh air there to keep it amicable.
Eytan moved through them. The ground sloped up. Just as the sky was fading into black, the ground broke. The dirt opened and stone jutted through at staggered angles. The stones themselves looked cracked and unfinished. Time had simply rounded out their accidental edges.
Turning toward the immediately, Eytan looked for an overhang in the rock, somewhere deep enough to tuck the two of them out of sight. Just over ridge, two stones leaned against each other, backed into the face of another hill, a triangular shadow in the almost dark. He ran toward them, heavily, careful of Riva draped over his shoulder, and slipped inside.
Holding his hand out, he searched for the back wall in the dark. He took one long step, listening to the echo to judge the space around him, then another, then a third more hesitantly. His hand continued forward in open air, and he shuffled his way ten steps deeper. The cave continued on, and he coughed out a laugh at his good luck.
He stepped sideways, put his left hand to the left wall, and tramped on. He knocked moss off the walls as he went and covered his fingers in slick water. From moment to moment, he heard small feet skitter to the right of him, or heard little wings snap into flight while squeaks echoed toward him.
He counted to two hundred and sixty-eight steps, pushing past an atavistic unease in the echoing dark, aiming for three hundred. And then the cave suddenly brightened. Every echo stayed, but starlight flooded inside. Another half dozen steps and he looked up into a broken ceiling. The jagged stone cut black peaks into the sky, like broken halves of an egg shell.
Fifty feet ahead, the cave closed again, but here, the breeze kicked sweet air inside and the stars shone down.
Eytan turned a full circle, proving the quiet to himself. Nothing moved in the little, grubby stone room. Gravel crunched under his heels, the breeze hissed, and nothing else made a sound.
Then he moved to the wall, tucked himself under the overhang and laid Riva gently on the ground. He straightened her neck, turned her head so that she faced up. He pulled on her heels until her knees straightened, and folded her arms over each other. Her hands were cold. Her heart had stopped beating hours ago. He avoided the blood caked into the collar of her shirt, and the slack slant of her jaw.
Then he sat and leaned against the wall beside her. While he waited for sleep to creep up on him, he watched her.
Riva didn’t move. He didn’t expect her to yet.