Alianor slept soundly that night. But after the stars had rotated a quarter of their cycle and the sky was staining navy blue, the fog of sleep condensed for a time into a dream more tangible.
Cedric, cropped hair, shoulders stiff, skin silvery and ghost-like, stood on the ridge of a dune. He was hesitating — balanced as much between decisions as between the steep slopes that fell away from him on both sides — like the gargoyle that perches on your sill at night to witness the world in your stead, with its head bowed under the burden of conscious thought.
And such it is with dreams that you can never tell how long passes from one impression to the next. For some time Cedric was facing the left, the hollow of his eyes and slender nose just discernible. Then he was turned to the right, and without the give-away of his boyish features could have been mistaken for a grown man. At last the horizon was unoccupied altogether, a sweeping divide between black and indigo proclaiming innocence of having ever been broken.
Alianor sat up, her heart pounding. The three other tents, really just canvasses propped as a shield against the wind, formed a semicircle around the carcass of the campfire. The breeze was kicking up sand which hovered in ethereal rushes an inch above the valley floor. Cedric, of course, was missing.
She ran barefoot up the ridge. He was walking only a hundred feet beyond, not like a sage or a lost lamb or an escapee, but with a slow and easy stride. He had his woven bag slung over one shoulder.
Alianor’s ankles brushed the parched shrubs and desert-lilies as she clambered down after him.
He stopped, turned, saw her with the slightest flinch of surprise. Alianor was lifting her frock as she ran down the slope, a frock that had been stitched with great care by someone in happier times. How, oh how in heaven had it come to this?
"You’re in the Queen’s ranks, aren’t you?" she asked in barely a whisper and with the sting of a child scorned.
"Not exactly, no. But I’m not in Yeski’s either if that’s what you mean." Her gaze was unabashedly piercing, so he looked at the necklace that fell across her collarbone. A silence elapsed wide as the ocean.
"I knew it! All along I knew it!" she exclaimed at last, the necklace bouncing on her ribcage. "Yeski puts too much on trust, I reckon."
"Yes, he does. But he puts too much on our trust, not his own."
Her expression crossed with confusion. She was so young, had seen so little of the world, understood none of it. "Don’t leave me with him. I don’t even know who he is."
"I barely know who you are," he reminded her. Another silence.
"So are you going to turn us in?" Her question was plaintive, resigned.
"Alianor," he tried to warm his face with a smile, "this isn’t our war, you know. I’m not your enemy." He held her gaze this time, pausing like he had something else to add. The smile quivered and fell. He turned away.
"Cedric, please!" He turned back to her. "If you must go, let me go with you."
"You know I can’t do that. It’ll work out alright. I’m sorry, truly." He turned for good this time, eyes straight ahead lest his resolution waiver.
A nomad in the lonely desert.