Desert Travelers III

continued from here

A restless night passed in the tent, Marcus sleeping little despite Danu’s comfortable cushions. He fell asleep shortly before morning, and woke to the sound of the howling winds beyond the tent.

Danu had slept peacefully, thanks to the excess of wine before bed. He had been drinking more often since the trip began, Marcus knew. He also knew that, without the wine, he would sleep far less, so he said nothing in protest. To be apart from Miriam these past few weeks, knowing she was likely safe, was difficult enough. He preferred not to think of his friend’s troubles, which were far worse.

“It seems the storm still rages,” Danu said in lieu of morning greetings. He had fixed a pot of tea over the small brazier, and now held out a steaming mug. “Seems it may be a serious one.”

Marcus took the mug, inhaled the sweet vapors. “Indeed so, your highness,” he replied with exaggerated formality. He looked down at the mug. “You should have woken me.”

Danu frowned, swallowing the last of his own tea in a single gulp. “Do you think these winds blow strongly enough?” he asked.

Marcus shrugged, sipped the hot tea, ran a hand through his hair. “Did you send the guards away?”

“To their own tents,” was the answer. “They did not protest. If they’d remained, they would be neck deep in the sand, would they not.”

Marcus sighed deeply and set his mug on the floor beside his seat. “I shall check,” he offered, and reached inside his tunic to touch the crystal he wore on a leather cord around his neck.

His awareness expanded to include more than his own body. He felt the prince’s presence, a short distance away from his own. He felt the faint hints of protective magic on various objects within the tent, and on the tent itself. Although not possessing any magical ability himself, Danu had been gifted with a great deal of protective magic before embarking on this journey.

Beyond the tent, there was a space free of both magic and life before other tents appeared. The storm, though vicious, was indeed not magically created, only a terrifyingly destructive force of nature. With patience and detail, Marcus examined the camp. Life forms were huddled within tents, wisely taking shelter. He sensed no one near enough to eavesdrop.

He returned his awareness to his own body, and then sat with his eyes shut for a moment more, using only his ordinary, earthly senses. He felt the soft cushions beneath him, smelled the steam floating up from the tea, felt his heart beating in his chest. At last, he opened his eyes to the sight of Danu, studying him with mild concern, which he was attempting to hide.

“You didn’t have to do that,” he said, worry in his voice that he tried to disguise with rebuke.

“Forgive my not asking permission, your highness,” Marcus replied. He lifted his tea, and sipped it calmly. The hot beverage entered his body and warmed him. “We are quite alone.”

It seemed as though a weight lifted from his shoulders, so dramatically did Danu sigh with relief. “I therefore hereby order you to refrain from any further ‘your highness’!” he said then.

Marcus allowed himself a small smirk. “I’d have thought you would be used to it by now.”

“Never!” was the vehement reply. He poured himself another mug of tea. “I sometimes think I should rather be a street urchin than a prince. It was only ever Hareah who convinced me otherwise, who made nobility bearable.” He paused to drink.

Marcus said nothing, only sipped his own tea.

“Anyway,” Danu went on, “I meant to discuss your lady, not mine.”

“I admit to some concern,” Marcus answered, at last lowering his mug, “but Miriam can take care of herself quite well.”

“Oh, I know,” Danu assured him. He sighed. “Some days it feels as though the world and all those in it are drifting farther and farther away from me.” He paused to sip his tea, then settled into the cushions. “Three weeks into this wretched wasteland of a country, and I still don’t know why anyone would choose to be here. Slavers, thieves – why do they return with what they steal from us, instead of staying away?”

“I imagine they are rewarded for it,” Marcus answered. “They may have families here, or lovers.”

The answer seemed to satisfy Danu, at least for the moment. They listened to the winds blow, saying nothing for some time. “I wonder how long this storm will last.”


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