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Anxious for his lady’s return, Marcus did not return to his tent, but found small things to do in the camp. He checked on the animals, he spoke with some of the other travelers, he even conversed with one or two of the Desert Lords. In his mind, deep within himself, he could feel Miriam’s approach, but he could not yet see her.
Shortly after noon, when the camp had gone almost entirely silent in the midday heat, Marcus awoke from his half-asleep state to the sound of voices. He opened his eyes, recognizing one of the voices as familiar.
“Water,” Miriam was saying as he approached his own tent. “They are both exhausted, make sure they have water. And the bird as well.” Tim and Eustace were helping two young women down from the bird while she looked on; Emmaline was hurrying to fetch water.
The slave girls were dressed in thin, threadbare garments – silks so worn from wear and sun that they’d lost most of their colors. They were simple, shapeless garments that fell slightly above the knee, and over their heads, silk scarves to keep the sun off their faces, which, despite this effort were pink from the sun.
Miriam, too, was pink from the sun, and looked a great deal warmer than her charges. She had foregone the usual layers of skirts and undergarments to wear a simple linen dress over thin trousers, but even this had suffered from travel. She was rummaging in her pack, unloading, when she at last sensed his presence.
“Oh, there you are,” she said in greeting, and abandoned whatever she’d been doing to face him. An instant later and they were embracing, their lips meeting, and then he felt her in his arms at last.
“Here I am,” he said when they separated, “and here you are, at last.”
“Yes,” she said, “and I’ve brought back two for his highness, but I hope he doesn’t mind if I freshen up before I bring them to him.” She grinned as she said it, for they both knew that Danu would not mind in the slightest if she arrived in tattered rags or three hours late.
“I think he can forgive you,” Marcus replied. “Shall I…assist you, milady?”
“I would welcome it greatly,” she answered, and glanced over her shoulder, where the servants were waiting further instructions.
Tim, the younger, was tending to the bird; having removed the luggage strapped to it, he was leading it to the tent where the other animals were resting. Anna and Emmaline were already emptying her pack, shaking out the clothing and preparing it to be washed.
“Leave off the luggage, if you can,” Miriam told them, “and see to it those two have a bath first. I’ll need to present them to his highness, but I want to rest and wait for the heat of midday to pass. Perhaps this evening. I hope I can leave them in your hands, Emma?”
“Yes, milady,” Emmaline answered with a brief curtsy. She glanced toward Eustace, who understood without further speaking that he was to fetch water for this purpose.
“I hope you can see that we are undisturbed for a few minutes, at least?” Marcus asked of them, and they all nodded obediently, knowing smiles passing between them that he noticed despite their attempts to hide them.
They passed into the tent that had been his alone for the last few weeks, the cooler shade of the interior almost immediately evaporating some of the sweat from their bodies. Miriam had unbuttoned the top of his shirt before the flaps closed behind them, and in mere seconds later the rest of his shirt was opened, the hot air feeling cool on his bare skin.
“I love the desert,” she mumbled, a statement he barely heard as she nibbled at his neck. “Far fewer clothes to remove.”
Marcus agreed with that. Removing his wife’s simple garments in this tent was a far quicker task than unlacing corsets and struggling through petticoats. Within a few moments more they were both naked, and falling between the pillows.