Evera lowered herself to the damp chill earth next to Ramses. She’d been trying to get a moment alone with him all day. “Spit it out.”
Ramses’ head swiveled slowly on his trunk thick neck. He looked at her, eyes wide beneath a heavy brow. “Spit what out?” he said, his voice as heavy as the darkness.
Evera pulled her knees up beneath her chin and wrapped her arms around her shins. She didn’t meet his gaze, but instead kept her eyes focused on an invisible distant point. She needed to be able to keep her composure and patience. “I’ve been watching you all day, cousin, and I know that something is weighing heavily on your mind.”
“What makes you think that?”
“I know you.” The three years that Ramses had been gone in self-exile hadn’t been long enough for Evera to forget her cousin-in-law’s temperament. Ramses had always been a man of action and few words. Despite this, when his heart was engaged as it obviously was now, his face told the tale. The entire Midling community had been hard at work for nearly three days, readying the excursion troop, which included Evera and Ramses and six others, for entry into Sinistral city. As fearsome and unpredictable as this trip would be, most everyone had been in high spirits. Everyone except Ramses. Everyone had noticed, it’s just that Evera was the only person brave enough to confront the silent giant of a man.
Ramses surprised Evera and shrugged his shoulders, not putting up much of a fight. “So what if I do have something on my mind. What business is it of yours. You a therapist all of a sudden?”
“Right,” said Evera nodding. “Under ordinary circumstances, I wouldn’t pry, but Ramses,” Evera turned to face him this time and placed a hand on his massive arm, “we are about to walk into Sinistral, right up to McKinley’s front door, and under threat of violence or the real thing, come what may, take Airun back. Some of us might not return. Some of us might not live.”
“So?” Ramses’ brow lowered and had Evera been anyone else, she would have been afraid.
“So, I am your leader, and I need you at your best.” Evera stood up and dusted off the backs of her pants. She took a deep breath, could almost taste the richness of the damp and moss and rotted wood of her forest. “If you can promise me that you will be, I’ll leave it alone. I won’t press.”
“Have I ever let my personal issues come between me and a job? Have I ever let our people down in that way?”
“You’ve never left your woman behind either? She wasn’t my favorite person,” said Evera regarding Ramses’ wife Meager, “but there must have been something redeemable about her or else you wouldn’t have stayed with her for so long.” When Ramses had returned to the Midlings a week ago from a three year self-imposed exile, he’d been without Meager. She’d been one of the reasons he’d left in the first place; her words had poisoned his heart against their former leader, his cousin Airun and his own people.
Ramses’ head fell forward. “It’s not her.”
Evera rubbed her hands together and blew into the cup of her fingers. Steam billowed up in a thick white plume. “I’m going back to my cabin. If you want to talk, I’ll be there.”
Evera turned to leave, passed between two great oaks, careful not to trip on their tangled roots. Then she heard Ramses say in a voice almost as quiet as the night, “It’s just that I’m scared. I’ve never been out of the woods before.”