There was no easy dawn that morning, no cool, lingering dark. The sun rose, dug hot, steady fingers into the earth and yanked it around to face it. Danneel woke into too-bright daylight, her blanket already pushed to the side, her mouth sticky after her short hours of sleep.
She had slept like something dead, she realized. There was no other way to account for the way she had lost time, the way daylight had invaded. And that woke her up fast.
Evander was already moving. He knelt on the ground, rolling his small sack of things inside his blanket. They had all gotten used to packing their small pile of things into even smaller packets for easy carrying, but he still gave it all of his attention. He tucked the end of the blanket in itself as if someone might be along to inspect the tightness of the fold, and he tied the rope to either end with careful knots, as if there were no hurry, and nothing else in the world. It bothered Danneel a little – the rest of them had learned to do it so much quicker – but he was also the only one who never made any noise as he walked, or had to stop to repackage his things midday to stop them from clinking.
The roadblock was the kind of efficient, lazy installation that Danneel had come to expect from these northern roads. There were three soldiers, each shrugged out of the piece of armor they hated most. Two of them had taken their helmets off and set them under their elbows. The other kept his pushed back on his head, but had peeled out of his pauldrons. They all sat, propped up on tree stumps or rocks, with their feet in the dirt road, as if that was enough to tell their commanders that they’d never left it. They sipped from water pouches, munched on nuts and rolls, and rumbled through their idle conversations. They had been there, exactly long enough to grow thoroughly bored with everything around them, and to accidentally memorize every forest sound and shadow. Any uneven crunch in the leaves turned their curious heads.
Danneel bit her lip, swallowing a sigh and any sound that might come with it. “Any ideas?” she asked the others.
Jerdan, leaning against her same branch, with his arms crossed over the lower half of his face, said nothing. Heydi had her little fingers laced through Danneel’s and she cocked her head to one side in that empty clockwork way she did when she wanted a thought, but her young head hadn’t put it together yet. Evander tapped his fingers against the tree trunk, once, twice, a third and fourth time, then stopped.