[This has nothing to do with anything else I’ve ever posted.]
The caravan was moving slowly over the arid plains, a gentle breeze scattering the sandy soil. Lost in his own thoughts, Marcus at first did not notice the boy making his way toward him, opposite the flow of traffic. He pushed back the hood of his cloak when he recognized the boy as one of Danu’s more trusted servants. Sam, he was called, and his presence needed no words – he would not have come save on an errand from the prince. Marcus raised a questioning eyebrow; the boy nodded, inclining his head slightly in the direction he had come. Digging his heels in, Marcus urged his mount forward.
Although he certainly could have ridden in a carriage, and it might have been wise to do so, Danu rode a bird as the rest of them did. With great reluctance, he had consented to the crowd of bodyguards insisting on his protection. They admitted Marcus into the circle without question, and kept a respectable distance to allow for somewhat private conversation. As Marcus approached, the wind gusted, and Danu, a thoughtful frown on his face, dispensed with pleasantries and asked directly the question for which he had summoned his friend, “Is this wind your lady’s doing?”
Miriam could, and sometimes did communicate via magical winds, but Marcus had not considered this possibility. He shut his eyes for a moment, feeling the warm breeze, as the birds lumbered slowly onward. The breeze, like the air, was hot, but it lacked the spark of magic the lady in question would have imbued it with had it been her doing. Occasionally, the magic was well hidden, but it would have made itself known with his own searching. After a few moments, he opened his eyes and shook his head.
“It is not,” he reported. A sudden, stronger gust punctuated this statement. “There is no magic in this.” In a lower tone, he added, “You may wish to consider making camp and preparing for a storm, your highness.”
Danu frowned, both at the honorific and the knowledge, and then nodded. “Better safe than sorry,” he agreed, and waved a hand. One of his bodyguards, seeing the gesture, began to spread the word, and a short while later the horns were blowing, signaling the caravan to halt. Danu pulled his mount to a halt, and the others followed his lead. Within moments, servants and guards alike were rushing forward to help him dismount.
“When you are settled and secure, come to me,” he said to Marcus by way of dismissal, and turned to tend to other matters. Marcus nodded his agreement, and turned his mount.
Although Miriam had departed, she had left behind their servants and most of her luggage, choosing to travel alone and unencumbered by additional baggage or companions. Now in his household he had her two maids, another manservant, and the boy who drove their wagon. He returned to this wagon to see that preparations were already underway. The boy and the man were driving stakes in the ground to keep their tent secure while the girls were securing the birds and the wagon as best they could. This would not be their first sandstorm – previous ones had taught them well how to prepare quickly. Marcus did what he could to help, as quickly as he was able, and then ordered them all into the tent with their provisions.
“I will be with his highness,” he informed them. “Stay within until the all clear sounds.” They were happy to follow this advice. Amidst the swirling sands, Marcus ran through the camp and then quickly passed through the flaps into Danu’s tent without waiting for permission.
A strong gust of wind chose that moment to slam into the tent, rattling a few of the glasses and sending a few grains of sand dancing over the carpet at his feet.
“I thought you wouldn’t make it,” the unlikely prince commented. He had removed a glass and a bottle from a well-insulated trunk, and was pouring himself some wine. “Care for a drink?”
Having securely tied the tent flaps shut, Marcus nodded, taking a deep breath to calm himself. He brushed the sand from his breeches, tunic, and jerkin, and rubbed his hair with his fingers. “Seems this may be a long storm,” he commented, removing his cloak and setting it aside. The wind again battered the canvas walls. He cast his eyes over the tent. “Alone, your highness?”
Danu frowned as he handed over the glass of wine. “Precious commodity when one is considered royalty,” he noted, and then sat down amongst the pillows beside the trunk, waving his arm for Marcus to join him. “I should gladly give it up – everything about it, and take on whatever I needed to – if it meant she was safe again.” He took a gulp of wine.
“I know,” Marcus replied unnecessarily. He sat, sipped from his own glass.
“Do you – have you heard at all from Miriam, since she left?”
He considered. “Not often,” was the answer. “I suspect her ladyship is busy.” He paused to drink before elaborating. “No concrete messages, really, only a sense of general well being and vague location, often in a dream, or when I am near to sleep, or just waking up. The last one was nearly a week ago. She travels south, as she said she would. I do not know if she has met with success or failure.”
“But you know she’s alive.”
The words were not spoken with reproach, or anger, yet Marcus sensed both within them. He studied the carpet at his feet, and when he looked up at last he saw that Danu was filling his wine glass again.