The night crawled past in fits and starts. Eytan closed his eyes and opened them, felt an hour slid past as the shadows made their turns and the silence deepened into an older thing, but didn’t remember sleeping. The breeze kicked higher, and then died in the deep chill before dawn. The cave hummed, and then creaked. Gravel skittered haphazardly, abruptly, and Eytan lifted his head to listen, assuring himself there was no even human stride behind it.
Riva remained just as he had arranged her, the only thing in sight that didn’t shift while he slept. Sometimes he glanced at her from the side of his eye, and sometimes he stared. The shape of her was utterly familiar, while it seemed somehow she had been carved out of something heavier than flesh. Iron. Or something older.
The sky brightened while his eyes were shut. The sun drove the cold back down into the ground, painting the morning in shades of blue and green and gold. Trees whispered above the break in the cave ceiling, and cast dancing shadows down onto the uneven floor. The quiet broke into pieces, scattered by birds and wind sighs and the constant murmur of day. The heat itself seemed to sing, sinking deep into his cheeks as the sun nudged him out of sleep.
His tongue was thicker in his mouth when he opened his eyes this time. His shoulders ached. His spine was stiff and his backside complained from being pressed into the stone all night. Rolling to his feet, he stretched until his shoulders popped and the dull headache building from his neck began to retreat.
He took his time clearing the fog from his thoughts. Tilting his head back, he blinked into the sun. He spat to clear his mouth. Then, purposefully, he turned around to examine Riva.
She was too pale. The blood at her neck had dried ugly and dark, making the contrast even harder to ignore. Her hands were tinged with blue, while her nails and lips were stark white. Her chest didn’t rise or fall and Eytan tried to forget that he had expected it to.
A chunk of her braid had been cut, close to the wound in her neck. The split ends hung awkwardly in the knots, held still by a few of the twists and the leather strap at the bottom. He longer he looked at it, the more absurd it seemed, and closer he came to smiling.
Finally, he dug the water bag out of his sack and knelt next to her. It took him a moment to work her out of his coat and fold her shirt back to where he could see the cut above her collarbone. The back of her neck and shoulders and arms were darker, purpling to bruises, still wrong. He tore a corner off his spare shirt, wet it and scrubbed the blood away.
The cut grazed the bone and went deep, an inch and a half wide. Someone had stabbed her, standing close, and driving almost straight down. Eytan’s stomach turned as he thought about it. He rocked back on his heels for a deep breath.
Then he pressed the back of his hand to his mouth. He breathed deeper.
The shuffle in the cave came a few minutes later.
Eytan stilled immediately, head tilted toward the sound. It echoed steadily and grew louder, climbing up from the direction he had come the night before. The steps faltered, hesitated, and he imagined the way he had tested for footing on the uneven floor. Whoever it was moved faster than he had, probably carrying less.
He picked up his sword, and ran to the side of the cave, stepping just inside the closed roof, where the light behind him would blind whoever was coming.
A thin shadow appeared, thickened into shoulders and arms and legs, still thin in a loose jacket and breeches. A bow peeked over the man’s shoulder, unstrung, and a bag bounced silently on his back. Eytan recognized Kennet while he was still a dozen strides away. He still didn’t move until he was within reach, just in case.
When he stepped out, Kennet skittered away from him. Then he laughed nervously.
“There you are,” Kennet said.
“Here I am,” Eytan said. He looked the younger man over, quickly, then started back toward Riva.
“I was starting to worry that I was following a false trail you left, and feeling bad that I was scrubbing it out,” Kennet said. He matched Eytan’s stride, kept close behind his shoulder. “You walked a long way last night.”
“Seemed best,” Eytan said.
“I saw the blood on the road. A lot of it actually. Was it a good fight? Were you in the fight?”
“So, then…” Kennet let the question hang for a moment. Then he stopped when he saw Riva laid out on the ground. He swore proficiently. “Again?”
Eytan laughed dryly, almost silent.
Slowly, Kennet turned in a circle, scanning the lit length of cave under the cracked ceiling. In places, thick moss covered the stone, and in others, leafy vines hung down almost to the floor. He considered them, then the broken stone over his head, and turned back to Eytan with a shrug. “Are you happy here?”
“Not really,” Eytan said.
“Right,” Kennet agreed with quick smile aimed at the floor. “Have you slept?”
“Good. I haven’t.” Kennet dropped everything but his bow to the floor carelessly, then leaned the wooden staff against the wall as if it were made of silver. He flopped down on to the ground and grabbed his pack with one hand to stuff it under his head. “Go. See if there’s any place on earth you like better. And then find breakfast.”
Eytan blinked down at him.
“I’ll watch her,” Kennet promised with closed eyes.
Eytan hesitated. He glanced between the two of them, distinctly aware of the sound of Kennet’s breathing, and more aware of the iron stillness wrapped around her. After a long moment, he moved to his pack, took his time in picking it up and strapping his sword back to his waist. Kennet opened one eye, and waved him on.
It took him half an hour to work his way back out of the cave, right hand to the right wall. The daylight was no thicker on the other end, filtering through the trees, and he only paused a moment to let his eyes adjust.
For another hour, he circled between the low hills. He stepped every jutting stone, testing their cover. Then he wandered a little farther, hoping to see the haze of village smoke. The air remained clear, and there was no clatter of humanity, even from the road now cutting through the distance.
He startled a rabbit out of the brush, and drew a knife to be ready if another appeared. When it did, he caught it between the shoulders and it dropped instantly into the mottled leaves.
Eytan carried it back to the cave, collecting dry wood as he found it. Arms full, he trudged back up in the dark.
Kennet was asleep, lying just where he had left him. The cut at Riva’s neck was sewn shut with careful black stitches.